Initiative 97 imposes a mandatory statewide minimum 2,500-foot drilling setback, also cedes power to local governments to increase setbacks

This is the final week for environmental activist groups and Colorado Rising to gather signatures for Colorado ballot initiative 97. It’s the initiative that asks voters to change existing state law to impose a 2,500-foot setback on new oil and gas drilling and development. In many cases, setbacks are 500 feet now.

In its appeal this week for voters to sign the petitions, 350 Colorado, the state branch of the international environmental group, said in an email, “Permits for oil and gas operations in Colorado have spiked in 2018, many of them targeting schools, playgrounds, open space and homes.”

The email went on to say “COGCC’s failure to protect the public is why the Colorado Rising statewide ballot initiative for 2,500′ safety setbacks is needed to protect Coloradans, based on numerous health studies showing increased cancer, low birth weights, birth defects, respiratory distress and other serious health effects for those living or attending school in close proximity to oil and gas operations.”

Faced with considering the possibility of those conditions striking one’s family, it’s not hard to imagine thousands of pedestrian voters signing their names in favor of placing the measure on the ballot. The concept of moving industrial activity farther away from schools and homes in order to improve health and safety sounds like a reasonable idea, but the measure ignores the ugly economic downside of what initiative 97 is proposing.

Window Closing on Colorado Initiative 97: Voter Signature Collection Period Ends this Weekend

Weld County, Colorado, where there are more than 4,000 pending drilling permits.

Initiative 97 would effectively stop most new drilling and development in the more densely populated areas of Colorado, including the Wattenberg field, by removing a huge percentage of surface area from drilling and development. The initiative would designate 2500-foot buffer zones around “occupied structures” and “vulnerable areas.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), Colorado’s oil and gas regulator, has released acreage-reduction calculations based on a successful initiative 97, saying that of the 7 million acres of non-federal land in Colorado’s top oil and gas producing counties, proposed initiative #97 would exclude 6.5 million acres from drilling and development. That’s a 93% reduction in non-federal land available to drill. The number could go higher as the initiative provides for local municipalities to impose bigger setbacks to remove areas from availability for drilling as they see fit.


In Weld County alone, the state’s top producing county, the COGCC lists more than 4,000 pending permits to drill.

The ballot title for Initiative #97 reads as follows:

“Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a statewide minimum distance requirement for new oil and gas development, and, in connection therewith, changing existing distance requirements to require that any new oil and gas development be located at least 2,500 feet from any structure intended for human occupancy and any other area designated by the measure, the state, or a local government and authorizing the state or a local government to increase the minimum distance requirement?”

Petition circulators have until August 6th to turn in approximately 100,000 valid voter signatures in favor of a “yes” response, in order to qualify the initiative to be placed onto the November 2018 ballot. Most sources believe that number will have to be closer to 120,000-140,000 to yield the 98,492 valid signatures required by the secretary of state, following the verification process.

If 97 succeeds in achieving the 98,492 valid voter signatures and if the measure is subsequently passed by Colorado voters in the statewide election in November, the removal of so many acres from drilling and development availability would spell big changes for Colorado’s oil and gas industry.

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