Denver voters could see a measure on the 2020 ballot that would ban fracking within city limits.
Resilient Denver, a citizens group advocating for climate action, has filed the initial paperwork with City Council to place an initiated charter amendment before voters in November.
If approved, the measure would prohibit fossil fuel extraction in Denver and outlaw the storage and disposal of any waste created as a byproduct of fracking.
“This isn’t about banning fracking, Resilient Denver spokesman Ean Tafoya said. “This is about the health and safety of people.”
Denver’s air quality “is no longer acceptable,” the group said in a statement, pointing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent announcement downgrading Denver metro’s air quality rating from “moderate” to “serious.”
Just about all of Denver’s existing oil and gas wells are within the 53 miles of Denver International Airport’s property.
"Bans on oil and gas production are illegal — whether proposed by citizens or politicians. Senate Bill 181 didn’t authorize bans, nor did the Supreme Court when it ruled on this issue in 2016," Dan Haley, the executive director of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement. "This extreme political agenda is a slap in the face to the thousands of Colorado oil and gas employees who work downtown, pay taxes here and call Denver home. We need to stop these games."
The Colorado Petroleum Association has not yet responded to an interview request. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission declined to comment.
Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer also is trying to put power in the hands of voters when it comes to oil and gas development within city limits.
In an earlier interview, the councilwoman said the citizens’ initiative — which is not coordinated with Sawyer's office — would help “fill in gaps” that city government may not be able to address due to legal restrictions, including those that Sawyer said remain “murky" as a result of Senate Bill 181, which was signed into law in April by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
The bill requires the state to now regulate oil and gas development in a manner that “protects public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources,” and strengthens local governments’ authority to regulate oil and gas development within their jurisdiction.
But the bill also bars an outright drilling ban by local governments, along with the prevention of the practice known as forced pooling — and that’s where a citizens’ initiative aims to step in, Tafoya said.
The citizen-led initiative still has quite a ways to go, said Alton Dillard, spokesman for the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
First, the draft amendment must be reviewed by officials in the City Attorney’s Office and City Council, which Tafoya said will happen on Friday.
Then, after the necessary edits are made, the group can submit the charter amendment petition forms to the Denver Elections Division.
If approved, Resilient Denver will be tasked with gathering roughly 24,000 signatures prior to the election for the proposal to appear on the ballot, Dillard said. That’s about three times as many signatures the group has had to collect in the past for a citizen-initiated ordinance.
If the proposed charter amendment gets a spot on the November ballot, Dillard said it will need a simple majority approval to pass.