Differences in the candidates for Colorado’s top offices were clear Tuesday at a campaign stop in Westminster devoted to how the candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate would approach development of the state’s energy resources.

One of the biggest difference demonstrated during the two-hour forum at the Westin Westminster focused on a deal brokered in August by Democratic Gov.John Hickenlooper to avoid a multimillion-dollar campaign fight over ballot issues targeting oil and gas industry practices. His challenger, Republican Bob Beauprez, has questioned that deal.

Supporters said the ballot issues should have been put on the ballot and passed to keep oil and gas operations far from homes and schools. Opponents said the proposals — if passed — would have severely curtailed the sector in the state.

“If they had stayed on the ballot we would have driven tens of billions of dollars out of the state,” Hickenlooper said, calling the deal one of the most important issues he’s ever worked on.

“Many people say we would have won, that neither of the ballot issues would have passed, but we don’t know that. And if they had passed they would have set the overall energy industry back significantly in the state of Colorado,” he said.

Beauprez — a former Republican congressman who is in a virtual tie with Hickenlooper in the governor’s race, according to recent polls — said he thinks that rather than make a deal, the proposals should have gone to the voters, who would have rejected them.

“Governors need to be decisive. They need to know where and how to lead,” Beauprez said.

“I would have just beat them. I think it was necessary to take advantage of an election year to beat these things soundly and make them go away,” he said.

As part of the deal, Hickenlooper appointed a 21-member panel to look at how local governments can interact with oil and gas companies on drilling operations. The task force is expected to make recommendations to the state legislature by the end of February.

“We won’t be able to make everybody happy, but there will be places where there can be some local control,” he said, adding that there needs to be a balance between a homeowner’s right to peace and quiet in their homes and mineral owner’s right to access their property under the ground.

“Neither side will win, it will be a balanced resolution that protects property rights and everyone’s right to quiet enjoyment.”

But Beauprez said he doubts the task force will be able to achieve the two-thirds majority vote required to make a recommendation to the legislature — and said the very existence of the task force proves that the issue hasn’t really gone away.

And even if the task force reaches a recommendation, it would simply be for more regulation on an industry that already has enough regulation on it, Beauprez said.

Too many regulations cost jobs and investment, he said.

“I have a different idea of how to support the industry: We have enough regulation, we could probably roll some back but at the least we should say, ‘Stop, no more,’” he said.

As for Colorado’s coal industry, which worries it might be hurt by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations to cut carbon dioxide levels nationwide, Hickenlooper said he doesn’t believe that coal will disappear “any time soon” as an energy source.

The coal industry could benefit from figuring out how it can be used more cleanly and efficiently, he said.

And Colorado coal, which is high quality, could be exported to other nations also, Beauprez said.

“We need to make sure we can keep the coal plants open … but if we don’t want to burn coal in the U.S., much of the rest of the world does,” Beauprez said, adding that he’s support exports of coal and natural gas.

Senate candidates weigh in

In the race for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and incumbent Mark Udall both agreed that the state and nation should have an “all of the above” approach to energy supplies.

Republican Gardner said appropriate levels of regulation are needed on the energy front.

“We need to be making sure that the agencies are protecting our land, air and water — but not strangling our ability to develop our resources,” he said, adding that he, too, would support exports of national gas to international customers, and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Oklahoma — a project that’s been mired in controversy for years.

Both Gardner and Democrat Udall have proposed bills to speed permitting for natural gas export facilities.

“Colorado’s natural gas has a special role to play in the world .. with jobs here at home and promoting stability around the world,” Udall said.

Udall also noted his support for renewable energy, and programs offering tax credits to help the wind industry as well as the fossil fuel industry. “We need to keep in place the smart incentives for traditional as well as renewable energy producers,” he said.

The energy forum was organized by the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Business Roundtable, Vital for Colorado and the Consumer Energy Alliance.