Calling it a victory for the people of Colorado to see the oil and gas ballot initiatives taken off the table, state Reps. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, agreed to drop Initiative 121 on Tuesday.
Sonnenberg was adamant Monday when he told Windsor Now he had no intention of pulling the statutory amendment that would ensure the fair distribution of oil and gas revenues in Colorado by prohibiting the allocation of energy revenues to communities that ban energy development. Sonnenberg and McNulty delivered more than 138,000 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office on Monday in support of 121, but things quickly changed when Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a balanced compromise on local control of oil and gas drilling in a last-minute deal Monday.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis had joined Hickenlooper on Monday at the state Capitol to detail an agreement that calls for a task force to deal with concerns about energy development. In exchange, groups agreed to drop four initiatives that support or oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that blasts a mix of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals into underground rock formations to release trapped oil and gas.
Last week’s activities mean there will be no oil and gas questions on the November ballot in Colorado.
Sonnenberg and McNulty met with The Tribune’s editorial board Tuesday in Greeley to explain their reasoning behind not taking 121 to the November ballot.
“(Monday) night there were a number of people that talked to me that said this is what we need to do and we can’t afford the risk of one of those ballot initiatives passing and destroying the industry,” Sonnenberg said. “Initiative 121 is not pro oil and gas or against oil and gas. It’s about communities. It’s about severance tax dollars. It doesn’t hurt the oil and gas industry. Sure, they like it because it goes to those communities that need the money. That’s what the severance taxes were for. I had a number of discussions with a lot of people, and they convinced old Frank and I that we needed to take one for the team.”
McNulty said one of the points of bringing forth 121 was to help frame the Polis initiatives in a way that put squarely in front of voters the fairness issue of what Polis was trying to do.
Polis had financially backed two of the measures that sought limits on drilling, including increasing the distance between homes and rigs from 500 feet to 2,000 feet. Hickenlooper and the energy industry warned that the drilling restrictions would seriously hurt Colorado’s economy.
“When he brought his initiatives down, we got together and said, ‘If this gets him to pack those things up and take them down, then it’s a good thing,’ ” McNulty said. “Claim victory and get out of town.”
Sonnenberg said at least the oil and gas industry is secure for a couple of years with the initiatives taken off the ballot.
“Those jobs that we had in Weld County stay,” Sonnenberg said. “One of things that I’ve been saying is it’s important for us to remember that the No. 1 industry in the state, the industry that propped us up during the recession and made sure that we didn’t sink in the same depths of California and those other states, was the oil and gas industry. That industry doesn’t provide minimum-wage jobs. They provide good, paying stable jobs for people to spend money and earn money in rural Colorado. It’s important that we not drive those good-paying jobs out of the state. It’s important that we keep those jobs here with local people who live and work and go to school here in Colorado. Taking Initiative 121 down as part of that guarantees that it happens.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.