DENVER – The proposed ballot measure to increase setbacks for new oil and gas development in Colorado will be on November’s ballot, setting up several more weeks of battles between environmental groups that have pushed for the passage of Initiative 97 and the deep-pocketed industry and others who oppose the setbacks.
If passed, Initiative 97 would require new oil and gas development to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and “vulnerable” areas like parks and creeks. The current setbacks are 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
Colorado Rising, the group pushing for the initiative to make the ballot, turned in about 172,000 signatures, of which about 123,000 were estimated by the Secretary of State’s Office to be valid in a random sample. They needed at least 98,492 valid signatures for the measure to make November’s ballot.
There were questions as to whether the measure would have enough valid signatures, as shortly before the deadline to turn in the ballot petitions, some of them were allegedly taken to Oregon by a signature gathering firm who had claimed it wasn’t paid. But the petitions showed up ahead of the deadline.
Legislative analysis shows that if passed, Initiative 97 would make about 450 acres surrounding a qualifying building off limits to development – up from about 18 acres under current rules. Analysis from state regulators said about 85 percent of the state’s non-federal land would be off-limits to new development if Initiative 97 passes and could cost the state millions in tax money paid by the industry.
As such, the industry has put plenty of money into fighting the initiative. Protect Colorado, a group created by some of the largest oil and gas companies operating in Colorado, has raised more than $13 million to fight the initiative—including at least $4.5 million from Anadarko Petroleum Company. Colorado Rising had raised about a half-million dollars as of earlier this month.
Both gubernatorial candidates – Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton – reiterated recently at an energy summit in Denver they do not support the measure.
Protect Colorado and the Colorado Petroleum Council both slammed the measure’s making the ballot Wednesday in statements, saying that they believe the passage of the measure would hurt the state’s economy.
There is another oil and gas measure on November’s ballot, Initiative 108, that voters will decide. That industry-backed measure would require that Colorado property owners be duly compensated for reductions in their “fair market” property value stemming from new state laws or regulations, such as Initiative 97’s rules.
“We think that if government takes property, for example through an expanded setback, there should be the right of compensation,” Protect Colorado’s Karen Crummy told the Associated Press earlier this month regarding Initiative 108.
Meanwhile, Colorado Rising was pleased its initiative made the ballot Wednesday.
“We are excited that the democratic process has prevailed despite the oil and gas industry’s blatant attempts at stopping this important issue from reaching voters in November,” said the group’s Anne Lee Foster.