Coloradans Battle for Environmental Initiatives this November

Since April, environmental groups in Colorado have been working to gather signatures for two statewide initiatives that would amend the state constitution to increase regulatory control on energy industries. Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development submitted two measures, Initiatives 75 and 78, that would grant local governments the authority to regulate energy industry development and establish that facilities be at least 2,500 feet from an occupied structure.

The first, “Local Governmental Control of Oil and Gas Development,” or Initiative 75, would allow local governments to have jurisdiction over industries in their communities. The measure allows for local laws and regulations to be more restrictive on oil and gas industries.

The second initiative, 78 or “Mandatory Setback from Oil and Gas Development,” would establish that all new oil and gas industries be at a minimum of 2,500 feet away from any occupied space. It was proposed to protect health and sensitive natural areas, such as drinking water sources. Currently, the setback standard in Colorado is 500 feet from homes and 1000 feet from heavily occupied areas, such as schools and hospitals.

As of August 8, both initiatives were submitted with the required number of signatures, but have not yet been certified for the ballot. The two measures both need 98,492 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Supporters of the proposed measures include Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking and Our Longmont, an organization aimed at protecting the city of Longmont, Colorado from potential adverse impacts of fracking. Proponents of measure 78 claim that the new 2,500 foot setback would help reduce the health impacts of fracking industries, based on a health study published in 2012 by the University Of Colorado School Of Public Health. The study found that residents living less than a half mile from wells were at greater risk for cancers and other significant health problems compared to those that lived at a further distance.

Opponents of the initiatives say that the measures would have a deleterious impact on Colorado, which is the nation’s seventh largest gas and oil producing state. Protect Colorado, a collation that was formed around defeating the initiatives, claims that the measures would harm the economy, cause unemployment to increase, and reduce funds for public services. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission assessed the impact of ballot initiative 78 and found that about 90% of surface acreage in Colorado would be off-limits to future gas and oil industry development if the measure is passed. The strongest opponent of the measure is Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper, who believes that the measure would nullify people’s right to extract natural resources that are on their property.

Energy industries in the state have also been engaged in the debate, donating millions to Protect Colorado to overturn the movement. According to a Reuters review of campaign finance records, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Noble Energy, and Whiting Petroleum have donated a total of $6.7 million to the organization.

Earlier this year, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against a fracking ban proposed by the cities of Fort Collins and Longmont. Seeking to prohibit fracking within city limits, the court decision overturned the proposal, ruling that it would interfere with state regulation and production levels.

When an effort such as the proposals of Fort Collins and Longmont fail, attempts at ballot initiatives, such as 75 and 78 proposed by Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development, can result in potentially more stringent regulations. For example, in this case overturning a fracking ban in two counties resulted in ballot initiatives that would more stringently regulate oil and gas production statewide.