Mountain States

Ban-Fracking Setback Initiative Could Put Colorado Taxpayers on the Hook for Billions

Anti-fracking activists are kicking off  efforts to dramatically increase oil and gas setback distances, despite the concern expressed by Colorado’s governor that the measure would make Colorado taxpayers liable for “billions of dollars” in compensation to mineral rights owners who would be deprived of the opportunity to develop their property. The Denver Business Journal reports:

“Supporters of a ballot proposal to expand Colorado’s existing buffer zones surrounding oil and gas operations from 500 feet to 2,500 feet, a move that if approved by voters would ban drilling across a wide area of the state, can start gathering the 98,492 valid signatures needed to be on the 2016 ballot.” (Emphasis added)

Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper took issue with the initiative at a recent forum where he predicted that litigation arising from the impact on property rights would cost taxpayers “billions” in compensation to mineral owners. Also from the Denver Business Journal:

“2,500 feet, in my opinion, would invalidate people’s opportunity to extract natural resources that they own,” Hickenlooper said at the forum.

“I think if it passed we would be taken to court. We’d probably lose. And it would be considered a taking, and the state would probably be judged responsible and the costs [of compensation] would be in the billions of dollars”

If successful, the setback initiative is also projected to cost Colorado’s economy billions in lost GDP according to a recent economic assessment from the Business Research Division at University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. Economists found that a 2,000 foot setback distance could cost the state up to $11 billion in lost GDP a year and 62,000 jobs. Keep in mind the 2,000 foot setback examined in this study is modest compared to the 2,500 foot distance that activists are attempting to put before state voters this year.

The news comes amid reports that activists behind the setback initiative, Coloradans Rejecting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) will also begin collecting signatures to place two additional measures on the ballot as well. One that CREED has likened to a “full-fledged ban” through local control is an issue that was recently defeated in the Democrat- controlled state House of Representatives. Another would create a state constitutional provision for a “right to a healthy environment.”

Both of these additional initiatives are part of an effort by activists to ban oil and gas development in Colorado, a fact this group made evident during a recent conference call discussing their progress. Kicking off the call was Karen Dyke, spokesperson for Coloradans Against Fracking (CAF), who recounted a series of recent anti-energy demonstrations organized by the group before she rallied participants to support the initiatives saying:

“None of these actions, as important as they are, is enough to halt this toxic industry.” (4:49 -4:58)

Activists backing these initiatives will need to collect nearly 100,000 signatures from Colorado registered voters for their issues to appear on the 2016 ballot. And they are likely to meet resistance from Coloradans, who polling shows overwhelmingly support oil and gas development.  In fact, CREED’s efforts are so extreme that the Greeley Tribune editorial board has compared the group’s actions to a “toddler” throwing a “temper tantrum.”

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