Drilling setbacks are headed to ballot amid controversy

Signatures run far above minimum needed; energy industry fights proposal

Dan Elliott
Associated Press
Posted 9/5/18

A contentious proposal to tightly restrict the location of new oil and gas wells in Colorado attracted more than enough petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, according to election …

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Drilling setbacks are headed to ballot amid controversy

Signatures run far above minimum needed; energy industry fights proposal

Posted

A contentious proposal to tightly restrict the location of new oil and gas wells in Colorado attracted more than enough petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, according to election officials.

The measure, known as Initiative 97, is certain to ignite an expensive and high-stakes battle over how much control state and local governments can exert over one of the state's most powerful industries.

Backers submitted an estimated 123,000 valid signatures, well over the 98,492 required, Secretary of State Wayne Williams said.

The measure would require that new oil and gas wells be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and “vulnerable areas” such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals. It would allow local governments to require greater setbacks.

Current requirements are 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.

Supporters said bigger setbacks would better protect people and the environment, especially from fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

“We're just absolutely thrilled that safer setbacks from fracking will be on the ballot this November,” said Micah Parkin, a board member with Colorado Rising, the initiative's primary backer.

Opponents warned of dire consequences if it passes.

“This measure will devastate the state of Colorado by destroying nearly 150,000 jobs over the next decade, eliminate billions in state revenues, and negatively impact essential services such as health care, education, transportation, fire and safety,” said Chip Rimer, chairman of Protect Colorado, an industry-backed group.

A state analysis said the measure would place 85 percent of non-federal land in Colorado off-limits to drilling. An oil and gas advocacy group warned in June that taxpayers could face billions of dollars in compensation claims because energy companies would not be able to extract and sell privately owned reserves.

Both the Democratic candidate for governor, Jared Polis, and his Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton, have said they oppose the measure.

Setbacks are the subject of fierce debate in Colorado, where drilling rigs and storage tanks intermingle with schools, homes and hospitals, especially in the urban Front Range corridor north of Denver.

Colorado ranks fifth in the nation in natural gas production and seventh in oil.

The secretary of state's office estimated the number of valid signatures by examining a 5 percent sample of the nearly 173,000 submitted. That is standard practice for this type of ballot measure, said Julia Sunny, a spokeswoman for the office.

Opponents have not ruled out a challenge to the signatures, said Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for Protect Colorado.

In late August, the secretary of state's office said a separate measure backed by the oil and gas industry had drawn enough signatures to get on the November ballot.

Initiative 108 would make it easier for property owners to seek compensation from the government for actions that diminish their property's value. Supporters say it could be used if expanded setbacks prevent drilling for oil and gas.

The Colorado Municipal League has warned it would unleash litigation over all sorts of claims, including zoning changes, and taxpayers would have to pay for it.

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