Unsatisfied with the oil and gas regulatory reforms to date from a landmark new law passed last year, proponents of a defeated 2018 state drilling setback initiative are pursuing a possible second vote on setbacks in the 2020 general election.
The group Colorado Rising on Tuesday submitted language to the Secretary of State’s Office for five setback initiative proposals. One is the same 2,500-foot setback proposal that Coloradans defeated by about a 55-45 percent vote.
It also has submitted language for an initiative to increase bonding requirements to at least $270,000 per well for new wells to cover the costs of plugging wells and reclaiming well pads in cases such as when companies go bankrupt and can’t pay for those costs. Currently, the state allows for a blanket bond of $100,000 for companies with 100 or more wells.
Proposition 112 in 2018 would have applied a 2,500-foot drilling setback not just to occupied structures but to vulnerable areas such as playgrounds, open spaces, lakes, and perennial and intermittent streams. An analysis put out by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimated that the measure would have made 94 percent of nonfederal land unavailable for drilling in the five top-producing oil and gas counties in the state, including Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
Besides again pursuing that exact same measure, Colorado Rising is pursuing two alternative 2,500-foot setback measures. One would include Superfund sites as vulnerable areas, and the other would including the Superfund language and let homeowners waive setback rights for their primary residence. Its two other alternative setback proposals would involve 2,000-foot setbacks, one with the Superfund language and the other with the Superfund and homeowner-waiver provisions.
Colorado Rising spokesperson Anne Lee Foster said the Superfund language comes in response to concerns about the possibility of drilling in places such as the Rocky Flats site on the Front Range. That site was formerly home to a nuclear weapons plant.
Foster said her group will rely on polling and other feedback to determine which ballot measure to ultimately pursue. She said it will go forward with just one measure, addressing either setbacks or bonding.
Colorado Rising’s efforts follow last year’s passage of Senate Bill 181, which has required the COGCC and state air-quality regulators to begin undertaking rulemaking processes to overhaul how the oil and gas industry operations in Colorado.
“We’ve been disappointed in the (rulemaking) process thus far,” Foster said.
The COGCC has completed only one sizable SB 181 rulemaking process to date, addressing flowlines from wells, and Colorado Rising says those rules include too many concessions for industry.
Foster said Colorado Rising still supports the SB 181 rulemaking process but is pursuing the initiatives to address areas where it believes Coloradans are particularly vulnerable and a ballot approach is best.
“My response is what didn’t they get about the last vote?” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, an industry supporter, said of Colorado Rising’s new efforts.
He said Proposition 112 “went down in flames” and Colorado Rising is working to “shove things down the throat of the populace that the citizens have already told them they’re opposed to.”
He believes that the state legislature and Gov. Jared Polis already are driving the industry from the state thanks to SB 181. Noting that law’s provision allowing local government control over aspects of oil and gas regulation, he suggested people should seek local setback measures rather than a statewide approach.
Regarding Colorado Rising’s thinking in pursuing a possible setback measure identical to Proposition 112, Foster said more people have been impacted by the industry since the 2018 vote, and climate change is increasingly in the public awareness, and the group’s proposals would support climate action.
Dan Haley, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement that following Proposition 112’s defeat, “keep-it-in-the ground activists are back, pushing the same extreme measure and a few ‘112 lites.’ I’m confident Coloradans will again stand with working families and decline to sign these disastrous petitions.”
Leslie Robinson of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County said she doesn’t yet know what to think of the ballot initiatives, and her group would take a closer look at them as the election approaches. She said her group’s focus remains the SB 181 rulemaking processes, which will including dealing with bonding of wells.
“We’re going to work with the rulemaking and not be dependent on ballot issues to make changes in oil and gas regulations,” she said.