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Environmental group restarts effort to expand Colo. oil, gas drilling setbacks

Less than two years after Colorado voters resoundingly rejected a measure that would have significantly increased oil and natural gas drilling setbacks from homes, schools and businesses, environmental activist group Colorado Rising has submitted language for a very similar measure to be placed on the 2020 ballot.

Currently, Colorado requires drilling setbacks of 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools. The 2018 ballot initiative, known as Proposition 112, would have mandated setbacks of 2,500 feet in virtually all cases. The measure, which was heavily opposed by oil and gas industry groups, was defeated by Colorado voters 57% to 43%.

Five of the six measures Colorado Rising wants to see on the ballot are largely identical to the language in the defeated Proposition 112, including the 2,500-foot setback demand from "occupied structures and other sensitive areas." The sixth would require oil and gas operators to provide "financial assurance" of at least $270,000 for reclamation and remediation once oil or gas extraction is completed.

The measures will need to obtain more than 124,000 valid signatures to make the 2020 ballot, something Colorado Rising said would be unnecessary if the Democratic-controlled legislature and Gov. Jared Polis, along with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, had worked to toughen regulations on the oil and gas industry.

"We have earnestly participated in the legislative and rulemaking process for the past year and have seen little improvement in the overall protections for Colorado residents and the environment from industrial fracking activity," Colorado Rising communications director Ann Lee Foster said in a statement. "We have little faith in these government agencies to reject corporate influence and make scientifically-backed regulations. Therefore we will again take on the enormous task of running a ballot initiative."

Industry groups slammed the effort, saying it was the latest attempt by Colorado Rising to implement a de facto ban on fracking in the state.

"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," Colorado Oil & Gas Association President Dan Haley said.

Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Lynn Granger said Proposition 112 and ballot measures like it would damage the state's economy significantly.

"Colorado's abundant energy resources are keeping costs down for working families and creating opportunities not only within the industry, but for businesses and diverse communities across the state of Colorado," she said. "Coloradans voted decisively against Proposition 112, and with good reason. The natural gas and oil industry supports 232,900 Colorado jobs and has provided unprecedented opportunity to countless residents of our great state."