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Drilling setback ballot measure would keep rigs off of most Colorado lands

Author: Mark Jaffe - July 5, 2018 - Updated: July 26, 2018

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oil and gas pipelinesA residential neighborhood is pictured several hundred yards beyond an oil and gas well located in Weld County near Erie. (Photo by Andy Colwell/Colorado Politics)

About 85 percent of the state and private land in Colorado would be unavailable for surface development by the oil and gas industry if a ballot measure adopting a 2,500-foot setback for new wells from homes and schools is adopted, according to an analysis by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The analysis was done by the COGCC staff at the request of the commissioners and mirrors a similar analysis done in 2016 for a similar measure, which did not obtain enough petition signatures to get on the ballot.

Ballot initiative 97 is sponsored by Colorado Rising, a coalition of environmental and community groups, and it seeks to create a 2,500-foot buffer between occupied buildings such as homes, schools, hospitals and is focused on non-federal land.

In addition to the dwelling setbacks there are also the so-called vulnerable area buffers, which the initiative defines as including a range of surface hydrologic features.

These, the analysis said, “would have a significantly larger impact than ‘occupied structure’ buffers on making surface lands inaccessible to new oil and gas activity.”

The setback measure would remove the majority of the land in Colorado’s most active oil and gas counties from surface development, the analysis said.

“Clearly this is an attempt to stop energy development in our state and this impact statement proves it. This is bad for Colorado all the way around,” Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, told Colorado Politics.

In Weld County, the state’s prime area for drilling and oil and gas production, 85 percent of non-federal land would be off-limits to new oil and gas development.

In Colorado’s top five oil and gas-producing counties a combined, 94 percent of non-federal land would be unavailable for surface development, the study said. In addition to Weld, these counties are Garfield, La Plata, Rio Blanc and Las Animas.

“This report does not directly analyze the extent to which mineral development would be impacted by the decrease in surface acreage available for new oil and gas development facilities or hydraulic fracturing operations,” the commission’s 2016 report said. “This report also does not attempt to quantify economic impacts resulting from the reduction of available surface acreage for new oil and gas development facilities or hydraulic fracturing operations.”

The 2018 report does not address those issues either.

“The setback is there is protect the health and safety of Coloradans,” said Suzanne Spiegel, a campaign organizer for Colorado Rising. “The goal is to keep large-scale, heavy industrial operations away from communities.”

As for the commission analysis, Spiegel said, “the COGCC has never refused to approve a drilling permit, no matter how close it was to homes. The commission is always on the side of industry.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group said in a statement that the COGCC analysis “confirms what we know, a 2,500(-foot) setback would shut down Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry” and affect thousands of jobs.

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe has covered energy, environment and government issues for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bloomberg News and The Denver Post. He was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and studied environmental economics as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He is the author of two books, "And No Birds Sing, The story of an ecological disaster in a tropical paradise" and "The Gilded Dinosaur-The fossil war between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the rise of American science."