Adams County ends halt on oil and gas permit applications

An oil pump jack near homes in Frederick in Weld County. (iStock/Getty Images)

That Amendment 74 — the ballot measure to require governments to compensate property owners when regulations might impact their property values — is drawing opposition from city, county and state officials is no surprise.

But the measure is also increasingly being opposed by those who could be considered part of the measure’s base of support, including farmers and civic organizations representing 44 of Colorado’s 64 counties that are normally friendly to oil and gas interests.

There’s also the deafening silence on the measure from some of Colorado’s oil and gas cheerleaders, namely the Colorado Petroleum Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

The constitutional amendment is seen as a counter-punch to Proposition 112, which would restrict oil and gas development across Colorado by boosting setbacks between homes and new drilling operations from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.

Under Amendment 74, a landowner whose property is “reduced in fair market value by law or regulation” would be entitled to “just compensation” from government. It does not mention 112, but restricting oil and gas development on private property would likely reduce its market value.

As a constitutional amendment, 74 will require a 55 percent “yes” vote to pass.

The Colorado Farm Bureau was the public face of Amendment 74 during the petition process, although the real muscle (and money) behind the measure is coming from the oil and gas industry and one of its chief voices — Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy, aka Protect Colorado.

This year, Protect Colorado’s independent expenditure committee has raised more than $30 million from big oil and gas companies. That money was spent to get Amendment 74 on the ballot and persuade voters to approve it, as well as fight against Proposition 112.

Opposition to Amendment 74 is growing. If approved, some are warning that the measure has unintended consequences that could bite the oil and gas industry in the wallet, or at least in the courts. For example, if a government regulation allowed an oil and gas drill to be set up close to homes, as demonstrated in the photo above, the homeowners could sue the government, claiming the rig lowers their property values.

But more and more groups that have traditionally aligned with the oil and gas industry are coming out against Amendment 74, and perhaps none more prominent than Club 20, the Western Slope organization that just held the first-of-the-campaign season debates. The event’s named sponsor was oil and gas giant Chevron, and many of the questions posed in the 17 debates, from state legislature all the way up to governor, focused on oil and gas issues.

Club 20 calls itself the voice of Western Colorado, representing individuals and groups, including elected officials, from 22 West Slope counties.

Also now opposing Amendment 74: Action 22, which represents individuals and groups, along with elected officials, in 22 southern Colorado counties. Action 22’s board of directors includes Chad Vorthmann, the executive vice president of Colorado Farm Bureau.

So far, Progressive 15, the voice of northeastern Colorado, has yet to take a position on the measure. The group includes counties in the heart of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, including Weld County. Its website lists support or opposition to seven of the 13 ballot measures but doesn’t say what it thinks about Amendment 74.

Call the Colorado Petroleum Council to ask what they think about the measure and the reaction is, well, interesting.

Justin Prendergast, a spokesman for the council, told Colorado Politics the group is neutral on the measure. But less than an hour later, Reid Porter of the American Petroleum Council in Washington, D.C., the Colorado group’s parent, contacted Colorado Politics to say that Prendergast is only a contractor (he works for Novitas Communications) and that the council would have no comment on Amendment 74.

A spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association told Colorado Politics it has not taken a stand on 74.

The strongest opposition to Amendment 74 is coming from the Colorado Municipal League and Save Our Colorado, which is funded by an issue committee backed by environmental groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, Conservation Colorado and John Powers, who runs the Denver-based Alliance for Sustainable Colorado.

The issue committee has raised about $1.2 million, but that pales when compared to what the oil and gas industry is willing to put into its committee, Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage, which has raised more than $3 million, mostly in non-monetary contributions from Protect Colorado, which is solely funded by the oil and gas industry.

Sam Mamet, executive director of the municipal league, says the anti-74 side doesn’t have the money to match the oil and gas industry in this fight.

“It’s David vs. Goliath, but I’m heartened by the newspaper editorials” that have come out against it, Mamet said. “We don’t have the money and will never have that kind of money. Our focus instead is on community by community across the state.”

Mamet said Farm Bureau did not want to see this turn into a fight between towns and agriculture or between the Farm Bureau and the Municipal League, but that’s now what has happened.

> RELATED: Denver Mayor Hancock opposes drilling-setbacks, takings ballot measures

The measure is also opposed by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Competitiveness Council, Colorado Counties Inc., the Colorado Association of Realtors and the Colorado Homebuilders Association.

Mamet and others point to lessons learned in other states that have tried something similar, to their regret, and point specifically to Oregon.

In 2004, Oregon voters approved with 60 percent of the vote similar language, known as Measure 37. In the two years after the measure passed, more than 2,700 claims were filed, with an estimated value of more than $3 billion. In 2005, an Oregon judge ruled the measure unconstitutional, and in 2007, 62 percent of Oregon voters approved a modification to Measure 37 and threw out other provisions of the law.

Even those who support the amendment aren’t wild about changing the state constitution, a move that can be hard to un-do.

Former lawmaker and ag commissioner Don Ament of Iliff said he has concerns about the constitutional amendment. But Ament said his bottom line has been impacted by oil and gas regulations and it’s hurt his bottom line. He’s leased irrigation water to oil and gas companies for fracking in the past, around 5,000 acre-feet. (One acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons.) But with all the anti-fracking “noise” the companies didn’t renew the leases this year and gave no reason, Ament said.

Government regulations have required million-dollar sewer systems for small towns or for small school districts, Amend explained. “These are all impacts of government regulations and they impact landowners, too.” But that said, “I’d rather this not be a ballot measure. I’d rather see the legislature work this out and maybe do something through a referred measure.”

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