Joe Salazar

Then state-Rep. Joe Salazar speaks at a press conference on environmental regulation during the 2018 legislative session. Salazar now is the executive director of Colorado Rising, a law and advocacy organization fighting the oil and gas industry.

The environmental activists who tried and failed to pass setbacks from oil and gas operations in 2018 are cautiously pleased that a regulatory commission worked on the issue last week.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is drafting a number of new rules on the industry, based on Senate Bill 181. Last week the panel of professionals worked on a 2,000-foot setback.

Colorado Rising, which drove the ballot issue in 2018 and was considering further steps at the ballot this year before the COVID-19 shut down their ability to collect signatures. Proposition 112 proposed a 2,000-foot setback from well operations to homes, schools and businesses.

The measure failed by 55% to 45%, roughly 255,000 votes.

“Colorado Rising has been at the forefront of this issue for years, including spearheading Prop 112 for safer setbacks in 2018. We continue to encourage the Commission to adopt a 2,500 foot setback, but a 2,000 foot setback would be a good start and far more protective than the woeful setbacks under the previous rule,” said Joseph Salazar, the former state representative from Thornton and executive director of Colorado Rising, who narrowly missed the Democratic nomination for attorney general two years ago.

Democrats drove the legislation last year after taking control of the state Senate to go with the majority in the House. Colorado Rising on Monday called the legislation "a sea-change in how the oil and gas industry is regulated in Colorado."

While former Gov. John Hickenlooper compromised with the industry, which he used to work for, the new governor, Jared Polis, is driving a renewable energy agenda at the Capitol.

However, Polis said last month he would not support further regulatory ballot issues until the legislation had provided new rules, which chilled the election fervor for oil and gas this year — one that could have cast a cold shadow on Hickenlooper's effort to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper was tagged for his support of the industry in the Democratic primary.

On the other side, Protect Colorado and other industry activists backed off this year's ballot, as well. Protect Colorado issued its treatise on the COGCC setback discussions on Friday.

You can read about it by clicking here.

Colorado Rising noted, however, that 2,000 feet — the current setback is 500 feet — is more than it seems, since the measurement is taken from the edge of well pad and not the rig, Colorado Rising pointed out, though drillers "could often override those setbacks with a waiver from the commission," Colorado Rising said.

"Scores of medical studies and scientific research, along with dozens of explosions, gas leaks, and evacuations demonstrate the increased risk of severe long-term and short-term health impacts of living in close proximity to oil and gas operations," according to Colorado Rising's statement Monday.

Salazar added, “We represent communities in Broomfield, Erie, Thornton and Commerce City where oil and gas operations are right on top of neighborhoods and where residents are suffering adverse health effects. SB 19-181 finally mandates that the commission prioritize people and our environment over oil and gas profits. We remain cautiously optimistic that the commissioners will adhere to their statutory mandate.”

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