drilling rig

Drilling rigs dot the landscape in northeast Colorado. 

Protect Colorado, the ballot advocacy organization that supports the oil and gas industry, said Friday that the setback rules being drafted by a state commission will hurt both the state's economy and environment.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is considering a tiered setback increase for oil and natural gas operations. Setbacks are the distances required between oil and gas operations from homes, businesses, schools and other occupied places.

The change in rules, however, was the product of legislation, Senate Bill 181, that passed in 2019 after voters statewide rejected the setback proposals in Proposition 112 in 2018 with a 55.1% margin.

Setbacks greater than 2,000 feet go beyond what all studies deem necessary, Protect Colorado argues. Commission staff is recommending a 1,500-foot setback to replace the current 500-foot standard. Protect Colorado called it "simply an unreasonable attempt to silence vocal fringe organizations."

"It doesn't make sense for the COGCC to ignore the 1.3 million Coloradans who recently voted no to increased setbacks," said Protect Colorado spokesperson Laurie Cipriano. "The governor's recognition of the industry's importance signaled that the oil and natural gas industry is open for business in Colorado, offering legislative and regulatory certainty for its employees, investors, our environment, and everyone who relies on affordable reliable natural gas."

In an exclusive op-ed from Gov. Jared Polis, he writes that "we have a path before us to make those divisive oil and gas ballot fights a thing of the past" — if Coloradans give the new law some time.  

Cipriano referred to Polis' decision in July not to support of oppose any ballot measure related to oil and gas regulation until Senate Bill 181 had been given a chance, "instead of returning to the same old ballot box wars that this legislation was designed to avoid." He made that announcement in a Colorado Politics op-ed.

"During the most unpredictable and divisive year in a lifetime, Colorado found common ground on energy," said Cipriano, a former Polis spokeswoman. "Gov. Polis, mainstream environmental groups, and Colorado's natural gas industry agreed to unite and allow our landmark legislation to play out and show the country how to responsibly develop energy while also reducing carbon emissions."

Protect Colorado said in its statement Friday it would encourage "unity around rebuilding the economy we share," and that the oil and natural gas industry remain vital to the state's economic security.

The Polis administration's goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2040. Protect Colorado said Friday that natural gas, like that under Colorado, is a cleaner burning fuel that reduces carbon emissions and should play a big role in helping Colorado meet its goals and maintain energy reliability.

"Natural gas is used as a backup to alternative, less reliable forms of energy. When alternative energy fails, causing rolling blackouts, natural gas keeps the power on," Cipriano said. "Natural gas and renewables work together to provide consumers with the best forms of responsible energy available."

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