Mountain States

Group Behind Failed Prop 112 Pushing For Similar Ballot Initiatives in 2020

After failing in every election since 2014 to ban fracking in Colorado, “Keep It In the Ground” activists are rolling out yet another set of new ballot measures that would serve to severely limit oil and natural gas production in the state and replay the contentious battle that took place during the most recent election cycle.

Colorado Rising, the group that brought us Proposition 112 — which failed miserably when put up for a statewide vote in 2018 — recently announced a series of potential ballot measures that are very similar to the ones voters already rejected.

The group has submitted six new potential sets of language for a 2020 ballot initiative:

  • 2,500 ft setback from occupied structures and other sensitive areas (this is a rehash of the failed Prop 112)
  • 2,500 ft setback from occupied structures and other sensitive areas, including Superfund sites as “vulnerable areas”
  • 2,500 ft setback from occupied structures and other sensitive areas, with the inclusion of a waiver for private property owners who are pro development
  • 2,000 ft setback from occupied structures, again including Superfund sites as a vulnerable area
  • 2,000 ft setback from occupied structures and other sensitive areas, including a waiver for private property owners
  • Increased bonding requirement for new wells to $270,000 per well, up from $100,000 for multiple wells.

Try as they may, it will likely be another uphill battle for Colorado Rising to push yet again for a fivefold increase in setbacks upon voters.  Remember, Prop 112 did not see much public support in 2018.  Everyone from current Governor Jared Polis (D) to the Denver Post to former Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (D) came out against the initiative when it was being debated, because implementing the proposed mandatory 2,500-foot setback would make most of Colorado’s land off limits to drilling, and essentially ban oil and natural gas development in the state.

Never mind that after Prop 112 failed at the ballot box, the Democratic-controlled state legislature focused on making oil and natural gas legislation a priority for the 2019 session and ultimately passed SB 181, which they deemed the most sweeping legislation the industry had seen in decades.

When signing SB 181, Polis said:

“Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over and the winner is all of us.”

Speaking at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual Energy Summit in Denver, Polis said the absence of ballot measures meant more certainty for the economy, and added that he didn’t foresee any other legislation or ballot initiatives before the 2020 elections.

“There is no question, there is less uncertainty than there was in prior years. The threats, just not [Prop] 112, similar efforts before were really an existential issue. And again, I think by appreciating that we are a diverse state and that we empower local elected officials to solve problems. It doesn’t mean that every issue around oil and gas will be solved. What it means is that instead of people taking their frustrations out through risky statewide initiatives like 74 and 112, both of which would have damaged the economy in my view, people will have those appropriate discussions on the local level.”

The rulemakings required of SB 181 have just gotten underway, and are set to cover a whole host of issues governing oil and natural gas development. But that is not enough for Colorado Rising, who insists on pushing again for their unpopular ban.

During a press conference today, Colorado Rising Communications Director Ann Lee Foster scoffed at processes underway among regulatory agencies and in the legislature.

“We have been participating in the rulemaking and the legislative process for the past year.  We’ve been overall disappointed in the results there, seeing a lot of concessions granted to the industry in the one rulemaking process that has actually been completed to date.  So we don’t have a lot of faith in politicians and the regulators to rebuke corporate influence.  That’s why we’re taking on this enormous task again to protect our communities.”

While Prop 112 didn’t have support among lawmakers, the media or the public, the only real proponents were well known activists like Gasland Director Josh Fox, New Yorkers Against Fracking co-founder Sandra Steingraber and co-founder Bill McKibben.  And while Colorado Rising claims that  protecting communities is the purpose for its campaign, past actions and affiliations show what this is really about, banning development in the vein of the “Keep It In the Ground” movement.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Dan Haley made that connection in a statement issued today:

“This is déjà vu all over again. Last election, Coloradans decisively defeated an energy industry ban that would have shredded private property rights and put working families on the unemployment line. Now, 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.”

If fracking were to be banned in Colorado – whether outright or through destructive ballot initiatives – the economic consequences would be disastrous. A recent Global Energy Institute study also found that an all out ban on fracking would cost Colorado hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2025, billions in GDP and would lead to drastic cost of living increases for state residents.

So while Colorado Rising’s demands haven’t changed, the stakes may be even higher this time around.

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