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Colorado Voters May Get A Chance To Weigh In On Oil And Gas Issues

Aug 9, 2018
Originally published on August 14, 2018 8:46 am
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So Colorado voters may get a chance this November to resolve this long-standing dispute between homeowners worried about the close proximity of oil and gas and a rapidly growing industry. Advocates for two different ballot initiatives that would achieve dramatically different outcomes recently submitted signatures to the secretary of state. Grace Hood, from Colorado Public Radio, has more.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: It was a crowded scene at the Colorado secretary of state's office. Ballot issue proponents from the anti-fracking group Colorado Rising carried in dozens of boxes with signatures.

SUZANNE SPIEGEL: Last ones.

(LAUGHTER)

HOOD: Last quarter, Colorado Rising says they delivered 171,000 signatures to the secretary of state, well above what's needed to make it onto the ballot. Their goal - to stop oil and gas development within 2,500 feet of occupied structures, as well as gathering points like playgrounds and waterways like rivers. Suzanne Spiegel, with Colorado Rising, explains the current setback ranges from 500 to 1,000 feet. She stands near secretary of state workers processing signatures.

SPIEGEL: We need to protect the health and safety of Coloradans. Right now, the state's not doing that. And it's on us, the people of Colorado that love this place, to step up and to protect our communities, to protect our neighborhoods.

HOOD: Spiegel says a home explosion in the Denver suburb of Firestone last year that killed two people is an important reminder of the dangers of oil and gas development. The event was linked to an Anadarko gas well. This year could be the first time, in recent memory, Colorado voters get a chance to weigh in on oil and gas issues. Initiatives that sought to restrict energy development never made it onto the ballot in the last four years. A state analysis shows more than half of Colorado land could be off-limits for future drilling if Colorado voters approve Initiative 97.

That has the oil and gas industry worried. Through the interest group Protect Colorado, they've poured millions into a competing ballot measure. Initiative 108 would seek compensation for property owners if their water, mineral rights or property loses significant value, which would happen for some if the setbacks are enlarged. That initiative is also supported by the Colorado Farm Bureau. Executive director Chad Vorthmann says it would apply in unique situations.

CHAD VORTHMANN: Where they specifically targeted one individual, one producer or one type of industry and said, we're going to take your property or devalue it.

HOOD: At the center of the issue are farmers like Marc Arnusch. It's not mineral rights he's worried.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAW BUZZING)

HOOD: On Arnusch's farm, one hour away from Denver, workers build an insulation shed around his irrigation pump. He's doing this, so he can access water all year round and sell it to Noble Energy for fracking. Arnusch says he supports the initiative and is against the idea of greater setbacks.

MARC ARNUSCH: With all of the bad weather that we've had this year, quite frankly, if we just depended just on production agriculture, I don't know how we'd survive.

HOOD: If the setback initiative makes it onto the ballot, industry-funded Protect Colorado has $5.5 million cash on hand for advertising and can raise millions more. The Colorado secretary of state has until September 5 to verify signatures and announce which initiatives voters will weigh this November. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Denver, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "STEELTOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.