Boulder County Commissioners Back Proposed Oil and Gas State Ballot Measure

June 30, 2018 GMT

Boulder County commissioners on Friday announced their support for a proposed state law that — if it makes it onto November’s election ballot and is then approved by Colorado voters — would increase the distances that future oil and gas development has to be set back from homes, schools and hospitals.

The proposed ballot initiative would require that oil and gas development be a minimum of 2,500 feet away from such “occupied structures.”

That setback requirement would also apply to oil and gas development near such “vulnerable areas” as playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, public open space, public and community drinking water sources, lakes and reservoirs, rivers and creeks, and irrigation canals.

Current Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulations require that new oil and gas wells be at least 500 feet away from homes and 1,000 feet away from such high-occupancy buildings as schools and hospitals.

“This initiative, if approved by voters in the fall, would be an important step in providing greater protection for those living, attending school, or obtaining drinking water within a half mile of fracking sites,” Commissioner Elise Jones said in a news release.

“We need to take every opportunity to move these heavy industrial facilities away from vulnerable populations across the state,” said Commissioner Deb Gardner.

“A setback of at least 2,500 feet would provide a more protective minimum buffer area for Colorado residents,” Gardner said in the county’s news release.

Commissioner Cindy Domenico said she and her fellow Boulder County board members support the initiative “because increased setbacks are necessary to help mitigate the adverse impacts of large-scale industrial oil and gas development on health, safety and the environment across Colorado.”

Colorado Rising, a coalition of environmental and community groups, is leading the effort to get petition signatures and promote passage of the initiative.

Told of the Boulder County commissioners’ endorsement of the measure, Colorado Rising president Tricia Olson said: “We appreciate their bravery.”

Olsen said in a Friday interview that Colorado Rising has not yet started to approach other counties and municipalities for their support.

The initiative would also allow local governments — cities, towns and counties — to impose local oil-and-gas development setback requirements of distances greater than 2,500 feet away from occupied structures or vulnerable areas.

Oil and gas development, according to the measure, would include exploring for, drilling and processing of oil and gas, as well as the flow lines and treatment of waste associated with exploration, drilling and processing.

Its setback requirements would also apply to hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to free up underground oil and gas production.

Oil and gas industry groups oppose the initiative, as does the Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners, which said in a June 12 news release that local-control measures and state laws such as being proposed in the increased-setbacks ballot initiative would severely restrict mineral development, infringe on the rights of mineral owners who depend on their minerals for financial support and prevent future development “that could bring millions of dollars to the Colorado economy and local governments.”

The royalty-owners alliance said in that news release that restrictions such as those in the setbacks initiative “threaten the economic well being of our communities and the sanctity of property rights for mineral owners.”

Domenico said she, Jones and Gardner are encouraging people to sign a petition to help the initiative qualify for the state ballot.

Colorado Rising’s petition circulators must gather and turn in at least 98,492 valid signatures from registered Colorado voters by Aug. 6.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc