DENVER -- Colorado's leap into the shale boom is sparking a ballot box battle this November.
It's a clash between deep-pocketed operators and grassroots activism that could mark a turning point in the ongoing fight over drilling along the Front Range.
"We turned in 171,000 signatures," said Anne Lee Foster, an organizer with Colorado Rising, the group behind Initiative 97. "That's over 71,000 more than are required to make the ballot."
Initiative 97 would increase the setback for new wells to 2,500 feet. The current setback is 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
"We decided to take the power into our own hands," said Foster.
Foster and other industry critics turned in the required signatures to the secretary of state's office on Monday, and the state now has 30 days to verify the signatures before it is qualified for the ballot.
Foster said they want to keep drill rigs out of backyards and protect resident's health and safety.
"We are protecting homes, schools, playgrounds, and water sources from industrial oil and gas development," said Foster.
For Colorado shale drillers, 2018 has been a boom year. In their view, Initiative 97 not only threatens the state's oil boom, but it would also ban 85 percent of Colorado's natural gas and oil development.
"Private property rights, more than 100,000 good paying jobs, and more than $1 billion in taxes that now go to schools, parks and libraries across our state," said Dan Haley president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) which represents the industry.
Haley said the industry currently supports over 232,900 jobs and provides $31.4 billion per year in economic benefit to the state. The industry claims the initiative would decimate both.
Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went even further during an annual state of Colorado energy roundtable last month.
"Fundamentally, in my view, it's unconstitutional," Salazar told the crowd
Meanwhile, the industry has a well-stocked piggy bank ready to go to battle.
Protect Colorado, a political group created by the state's largest oil and gas companies has already raised more than $13 million, according to the most recent campaign contributions filing. To date, Anadarko contributed the most at $4.5 million.
Initiative 97 supporters, through the political group Colorado Rising, haven't raised anywhere near that amount. They have raised a little over $527,000, with its largest donation coming from the Food and Watch Action Fund at $190,000.
"We're confident that most Coloradans are going to see through this charade, and support the men and women who are the backbone of our state," said Haley.
"We've been outspent by the industry 30 to 1 in a lot of cases, you can see that in Broomfield, Erie and we still win at the ballot box," said Foster.