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Group pushes Colorado ballot initiative to prohibit local build bans on natural gas

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Denver — In a preemptive move, a group backed by the Colorado oil and gas industry is pursuing a ballot initiative meant to prevent local governments from banning the use of natural gas in new residential and commercial developments.

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The measure, Initiative 284, seeks to prevent state or local governments from passing laws or regulations banning or restricting the use of natural gas in furnaces, water heating or appliances. Protect Colorado, a group that "supports responsible oil and natural gas development ... and state and local ballot initiatives that promote a vibrant Colorado economy," has gathered more than 100,000 petition signatures to get the initiative on November's general election ballot. The initiative must receive signatures from 124,632 registered voters by August 3 to qualify for the statewide ballot.

"Initiative 284 prevents governments from removing your consumer choice when it comes to what energy is used in homes and businesses for cooking, heating homes and water, and generators," according to Protect Colorado. "If passed, local and state governments could not enact any laws banning natural gas usage in new construction. In short, Initiative 284 will protect Coloradans from natural gas restrictions and bans."

The initiative, if passed, would prevent bans that have already passed in dozens of municipalities in other Western US states. The city of Denver currently has a task force in place eyeing the possible curtailment of natural gas lines in new developments.

On the flip side of the initiative battle, which has raged every other year for the past decade in Colorado, anti-drilling proponents received a setback last week in a Colorado Supreme Court ruling.

Activists trying to get a 2,500-foot oil and gas well setback requirement on November ballots in Colorado halted its campaign after the court rejected the gathering signatures electronically. The group, Safe and Healthy Colorado, had been acquiring signatures through online means due to the stay-at-home measures enacted to stymie the spread of the coronavirus.

"We cannot put any supporters at risk, however, by asking them to sign the petition or gather signatures face-to-face at a time when social distancing is vital to saving lives in Colorado," spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster, in a statement. "It is with great disappointment that we are therefore suspending our signature-gathering efforts."

In 2018, Foster worked with Colorado Rising to place Proposition 112 measure on that year's ballot, which also sought 2,500-foot well setbacks. The initiative garnered enough signatures to make to ballot but failed at the polls.

The political battles between industry and activists took a back seat this spring as operators dealt with the crude oil price crunch and global decline in demand stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Rig counts in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, the most active play in the state by far, fell to as low as 5, according to Enverus. Sample production from the basin, which hit as high as 2.9 Bcf/d in late March, fell to 2.2 Bcf/d by May, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics, as producers shut in wells, leading to a reduction in crude and associated gas supply. It has already started showing signs of a rebound though, averaging nearly 2.6 Bcf/d month to date as of July 6.