Beauprez and Hickenlooper on Colorado drilling

Especially east of I-25, evidence of oil and gas extraction are ubiquitous in large areas between Denver and Greeley. 2014 photo/Allen Best

Especially east of I-25, evidence of oil and gas extraction are ubiquitous in large areas between Denver and Greeley. 2014 photo/Allen Best

Beauprez on drilling opponents:

beat them back once and for all

Hickenlooper hopes for something everybody dislikes somewhat

by Allen Best

Bob Beauprez, according to the polls, is almost an even bet to be governor of Colorado in January. If his comments on Tuesday morning are an accurate guide, there will be substantial changes in Colorado’s energy story.

Front-and-center for the state’s populated northern Front Range are the terms and conditions for extraction of oil and gas from the Denver-Julesberg Basin. Speaking at the Energy Forum held at the Westin hotel in Westminster, Beauprez suggested that drillers already suffer from too many restraints.

In July, it appeared certain that dueling constitutional amendments would go before voters this fall, one side seeking to ensure the status quo while the other giving local governments much more overt authority to limit oil and gas drilling.

Gov. John Hickenlooper worked behind the scenes to forge a compromise to avoid the wild shots fired in the dark in the form of simplistic 20-second commercials. In early August, a compromise was forged.

Both sides put their guns back into their holsters and Hickenlooper appointed a task force composed of a variety of interests to study solutions that might work for both sides. During his time on the stump in Westminster, Hickenlooper called it the “most important thing I’ve ever worked on.”

Hickenlooper characterized the ballot-box route of settling the dispute as risky. “If those ballot initiatives had stayed on the ballot, millions of dollars would have been driven out of state. The very fact that they were on the ballot would have been a big risk.”

Beauprez saw it very differently. “These things could have been beaten and beaten soundly,” he said when asked what he would have done this past summer. He expressed skepticism the task force recommendations will lead to any lasting peace and that, by the admission of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a sponsor of two ballot measures that would have expanded local authority, the issue will be back before voters in either the 2015 or 2016 elections.

“Let’s beat them back once and for all,” said Beauprez.

2013 photo/Allen Best

2013 photo/Allen Best

Hickenlooper talked about a balancing of interests, both the primacy of private property rights of the mineral estates but the right of homeowners to enjoy their homes. We have to balance those two competing threads,” he said. He talked about nip-and-tuck things such as positioning of collecting tanks in ways to be least intrusive to neighboring residents.

He predicted success at finding compromise, one that will be viewed as a national model. “When we do find resolution,” he added, “everybody will say, ‘That ‘s not my first choice, but I can live with it.’”

At least in his public appearances, Hickenlooper’s mien is that of wisecracking bartender and an oh-my-gosh peacemaker. He’s the friendly but ultimately sensible adult.

Beauprez represents himself in a more conflicted way. On one hand, he’s the take-no-hostages decision maker, the stern sheriff who will not put up with any nonsense from the troublesome Front Range towns that don’t want drilling rigs next to schools. He rails against government regulation, federal and state, and says that Colorado’s economy drags because of too much government regulation. “That’s not Colorado and that’s not America,” he said. “This is the place supposed to be about freedom for people.”

With lines line that, Beauprez got several hurrahs from the drilling-friend audience in Westminster.

Then he presents a warm-and-fuzzy approach. He believes in trusting people. “People solve problems,” he said, and he talked about Lafayette, where he grew up, where drilling was allowed after negotiation yielded a memorandum of understanding.

But isn’t that essentially what Hickenlooper’s task force is charged with doing, figuring out middle ground?

And if regulation is holding back the energy industry in Colorado, what will Weld County look like with even the regulations about setbacks, water monitoring and other measures designed to protect public health and surface property rights scrapped as part of a massive regulation purging?

Colorado has something like 51,000 operating wells, with 14 rigs active every day. Working primarily in Weld County, Anadarko already has 600 wells and expects to drill 4,000 wells, said Brad Holly, the company vice president of operations in the Rocky Mountain Region, in an appearance at the recent natural gas symposium sponsored by the Center for the New Energy Economy.

If Hickenlooper gets re-elected, it will be interesting to see what recommendations the task force comes up with and whether they get adopted by the Colorado Legislature. If Beauprez gets elected, will he scrap the task force and end the nonsense once and for all?

Perhaps tellingly, Beauprez didn’t mention renewable energy at all during his time on the dais in Westminster. Hickenlooper said little, but more obliquely testified to the need for renewable energy. He used his familiar explanation of human-caused climate change and the need to shift to ways that result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It is, he said, like fire insurance. You don’t really know that you need it, but it’s wise to invest in it nonetheless.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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