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Colorado Ballot Measures Take Aim at Oil, Gas Sector

A new wave of potential statewide ballot initiatives in Colorado aimed at oil and natural gas development emerged in the Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday, setting off alarm bells for the industry organizations.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) CEO Dan Haley said the emergence of the new proposals is not a surprise, calling them "the ghosts of Christmas past returning and trying to take the state backward."

Industry and state government officials have been nervous about grassroots efforts to place measures on the statewide ballot that undercut or directly conflict with the growing state regulations for oil and gas that are enforced by the Colorado Oil/Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper set up a task force to look at local oil/gas control issues that were spawning a ballot measure war (see Shale DailySept. 9, 2014).

Hickenlooper pieced together a political compromise to avoid a statewide ballot measure fight that fall, naming a local elected county commissioner and an industry senior executive as co-chairs of the effort.

Now the pro-industry group Protect Colorado has identified 11 proposals, eight of which would deal with setback requirements for oil/gas activities, a subject for which the COGCC in 2013 set new, more stringent requirements (see Shale DailyFeb. 12, 2013). The other proposals cover hydraulic fracturing (fracking), healthy environments, and lingering local control issues.

Numbered 62 through 72 by the state's legislative council unit in the Secretary of State's Office, the council's staff will now set public review and  comment hearings within the next two weeks. The Office of Legislative Legal Services and the council staff prepare written comments for each proposal prior to the hearings.

In numerical order, the first proposal deals with prohibitions on fracking (No. 62); the next the "right to a healthy environment" (63); local government authority to regulate oil/gas development (64); and eight measures addressing mandatory setback requirements (65-72).

All of the proposals were submitted only weeks before new rules giving local governments more input on oil/gas development are expected to be unveiled (see Shale Daily,Nov. 13), according to Karen Crummy, communications director for Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence (Protect Colorado), who added that last year stakeholders found bipartisan compromise and dropped potentially divisive statewide ballot initiatives. Instead, the statewide task force was created, Crummy said.

"These measures are so radical they would kill jobs, ignore established laws, devastate Colorado's economy and create a patchwork of rules and regulations throughout the state," Crummy said.

Crummy argues that the proposals, all in the very beginning stages of the statewide ballot measure process, are "completely out of step" with the majority of the state's citizens. A majority supports what she called "responsible" oil/gas development.

Haley said that "even though the [recommendations from the] governor's task force are still being finalized, there are groups out there that ignore the reality of our energy needs and simply want to ban the product from ever leaving the ground. Whenever real solutions are presented, these groups protest, like at the task force hearings and at the [state] Supreme Court [see Shale DailyDec. 10]."

Haley said that if one of the proposals make it on the fall 2016 ballot, "a broad coalition of business and civic interest" will fight it, along with COGA. "That's how important this industry is to Colorado, our economy, our livelihoods and to our country," he said.

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