Colorado city council member agrees to unblock fracking foes on Facebook

A pump jack in a field with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Colorado Rising, the group that put forth the oil-and-gas setback initiative Proposition 112 on the November ballot, now says it is looking at another ballot measure in 2020 if "state leaders fail to take effective action to protect residents from neighborhood drilling."

What would that 2020 ballot measure look like? The group isn't saying just yet.

But it's clear from its news release Thursday that Colorado Rising hasn't given up on the same provisions that were in Proposition 112, which was defeated by 10 percentage points -- namely, an increased 2,500-foot setback between new oil and gas development and occupied buildings or other "vulnerable" areas, up from the current 500 feet for homes and 1,000 feet for schools.

The announcement drew scoffs from Tracee Bentley, the Colorado Petroleum Council's executive director. 

"Coloradans voted decisively against Proposition 112, and with good reason," Bentley told Colorado Politics in a statement. "The natural gas and oil industry supports 232,900 Colorado jobs and has provided unprecedented opportunity to countless residents of our great state.

"While it appears that proponents of Proposition 112 are undeterred by the will of Colorado's voters, we welcome them to the table to discuss long-term solutions to our shared future. We continue to be a committed, collaborative participant in this discussion, and supporters of Proposition 112 are welcome to join us in rolling up their sleeves and working together to benefit every Coloradan going forward."

Colorado Rising has set up a list of expectations for the 2019 General Assembly and Gov.-elect Jared Polis, contained in a petition that aims to collect 1,000 signatures.

Those expectations include the setback; reforms to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which regulates the industry; and "a just, timely transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy" as reflected in the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warned an increase in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius would mean dire climate impacts. 

The group wants new Attorney General Phil Weiser to drop the appeal of the Martinez decision. That's a lawsuit currently under review by the Colorado Supreme Court and brought by 18-year-old activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. The lawsuit seeks to require the COGCC "to suspend the issuance of permits that allow hydraulic fracturing until it can be done without adversely impacting human health and safety and without impairing Colorado’s atmospheric resource and climate system, water, soil, wildlife, other biological resources."

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Martinez in May 2017, stating the COGCC had a responsibility to protect human health, a position supported by Gov. John Hickenlooper. However, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman challenged the appeals court decision, asking that the state Supreme Court review the case.

In her petition, Coffman wrote that the appeals court decision held "that the Commission must construe the [Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation] Act to subjugate one longstanding policy objective— fostering oil and gas development—to the Act’s other objectives," which include protection of human health and welfare. "That novel interpretation of the Act," Coffman wrote, is contrary to two decades of agency practice, and conflicts with other decision of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in October.

The Colorado Rising petition to Polis compliments him on efforts to put the state on the path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, but indicated that isn't enough.

Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising told Colorado Politics that the group wants to see all of the demands on the petition met, but they are willing to work with the governor and the General Assembly "for increased protection for our communities."

The clock starts ticking on Jan. 4, when the General Assembly begins its 2019 session. Should the group's expectations not be met by the end of the session, they'll start working on ballot language in late 2019 and begin gathering signatures in 2020, Foster said.

Colorado Rising, in Thursday's announcement, said that Proposition 112 garnered more than 1.1 million votes "despite [supporters] being outspent 40 to 1 by the oil and gas industry."

The group also wants a moratorium on permitting and approval to allow time for the next legislature to create laws "based on peer-reviewed health impact studies." They pointed out that in October and November, the COGCC approved 1,424 new drilling permits with another 6,598 drilling permits awaiting approval.

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