DENVER — As former mayor of Centennial, Randy Pye is a big fan of local control, which means he supports the rights of cities like Boulder to impose restrictions on hydraulic fracturing—as long as they don’t exceed the state’s restrictions.
That’s the premise behind the proposed ballot initiatives he submitted Friday, the deadline for measures attempting to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot.
The two versions of essentially the same measure would prohibit cities and counties from “regulating oil and gas development or operations that are more restrictive or otherwise exceed or conflict with regulations adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission or any executive department of the state, or state laws enacted by the Colorado General Assembly.”
One version would allow localities to assess an oil-and-gas impact fee to “mitigate the direct costs associated thereto.”
His proposals join a long list of would-be ballot measures on the oil-and-gas industry aiming for the November election. Almost all of those are directed at cracking down on fracking, but Pye says his would-be initiatives strike a balance between the rights of private industry and local governments. “When I started to see some of the potential initiatives that were banning either oil and gas or the one local-control [measure] that’s out there, I thought that perhaps I could lend my local-control bona fides to the oil and gas industry,” said Pye. “Maybe help them try to come up with an initiative that would work, that would satisfy both sides.”
His measure comes as the latest indication that supporters of oil and gas industry plan to do more than act as goalies in this year’s election. Last week, state Reps. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) and Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) proposed an initiative that would deny severance-tax revenue to localities that prohibit development.
If approved for the ballot, those initiatives would “give people an opportunity to vote yes on something as opposed to no, so that they can advocate a positive message and not just play defense,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
“Pye’s just highlights what the opponents are saying, which is that this will produce regulatory chaos, and that in point of fact we should vote for regulatory uniformity and statewide standards,” said Ciruli.
So far fracking opponents aren’t thrilled with Pye’s idea. Kelly Giddens, spokeswoman for Local Control Colorado, which has sponsored a measure that would allow localities to ban fracking, issued a statement Monday decrying the proposal.
“We believe that Coloradans deserve the right to decide how to protect their families, their property and their future from fracking. These oil and gas ballot measures would strip Coloradans of that right. That is wrong,” said Giddens.
She added that the measures “are the most recent intimidation tactics employed by the oil and gas industry to take away local control from Coloradans.”
Pye, who heads the strategic consulting group FulcrumOne in Denver, chuckled at the suggestion that he’s trying to intimidate anyone. So far he said he doesn’t have a website, a Facebook page or even a name for his campaign.
“There is no funding yet,” said Pye, who’s working with former Routt County Commissioner Amy Williams.
That may change as the election approaches. Colorado is poised to become the white-hot center of the conflict between the oil and gas industry and fracking foes as a slew of measures move toward the Nov. 4 ballot.
Even though it’s still early in the process, industry groups are investing heavily on a public-information campaign designed to inform the public on the benefits of fracking while countering the environmental movement’s horror stories.
Voters in four towns—Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette—approved anti-fracking measures in November. That momentum, combined with Colorado’s relatively inexpensive media markets and initiative process, could signal another eventful election year.
“I think this will be the test case. The East and West Coast environmental groups and big money are putting everything in here,” said Ciruli. “I think they would go to California, except it’s too expensive and the governor there is also opposing it strongly. So we’re now Ground Zero in the battle over fracking in this country.”
Pye’s proposed initiatives go before the state title board April 4.