- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Mineral owners would get compensation from local governments that restrict fracking under a Republican bill advanced by the Colorado Senate Thursday.

The question pits homeowners concerned over industrial activity in residential areas and mineral owners who want to develop their property. Sometimes the matter is further complicated in Colorado by the fact that minerals belonging to one person are underneath a house owned by someone else.

The sponsor of the compensation bill, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said his goal is to protect property rights when a local government implements restrictions on fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. It involves extracting oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals.

“It’s basically a, ‘You ban it, you buy it,’ philosophy,” he said. “I would argue that it’s not much different than somebody that may buy a piece of property in the hopes to build a house someday and then government comes in and says, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not going to be allowing any more housing built along this street.’”

Sonnenberg’s proposal would require compensation to mineral owners if regulations reduce their property value by at least 60 percent.

A Senate committee voted 5-4 with Democrats in opposition. The full Senate now will consider the proposal.

Fracking is expected to be one of the most hotly debated questions lawmakers will take on this legislative session. A task force assembled by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper will deliver recommendations to lawmakers later this month about how to reduce land-use conflicts among local governments, homeowners and the energy industry.

Hickenlooper told local government officials during a breakfast Thursday he’s optimistic there will be suggestions that lawmakers can take up, given that any recommendations must be approved by a two-thirds vote from the task force.

“Certainly talking to both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, pretty much everybody said, ‘Boy, if they get two-thirds of the vote, we’re going to have to look at it pretty closely.’”

Hickenlooper assembled the task force to get pro- and anti-fracking groups to drop dueling ballot initiatives last November.

But the issue involves several stakeholders.

One of them is, Marilyn Hughes, 66, a longtime resident of Longmont, where voters banned fracking. The matter is tied up in court.

Hughes told lawmakers she opposes Sonnenberg’s bill, saying, “It feels as if it’s aimed directly at me as a citizen for having the presumption to try and protect my county from industrial activity.”

Meanwhile, Neil Ray, one of the mineral owners, said he worries the governor’s task force won’t issue recommendations to protect people like him. Ray is also a board member of the National Association of Royalty Owners.

“The task force is not going to send any recommendations that protect us from our minerals being taken from us unjustly without compensation,” he said.

Sonnenberg’s proposal is likely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. But Democrats in charge of the House are certain to reject it.

___

Online:

Senate Bill 93: https://goo.gl/2NqEGn


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