Colorado voters reject stricter rules on new oil, gas wells

By THOMAS PEIPERT Associated Press

DENVER — Colorado voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal that would have tightly restricted where new oil and gas wells could be drilled statewide.

Proposition 112 would have required that new wells be at least 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and “vulnerable areas” such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals. It also would have allowed local governments to require even bigger buffer zones.

Groups backed by the energy industry pointed to a state analysis that determined the measure would make 85 percent of non-federal land in Colorado off-limits to drilling.

Supporters of the measure say the stricter rules would better protect people and the environment. The state currently requires wells be 500 feet (150 meters) from homes and 1,000 feet (300 meters) from schools.

According to an analysis by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry, the measure would have prevented drilling on large swaths of land along the Front Range urban corridor, including in Weld County where houses and other developments sit atop the expansive Denver-Julesburg Basin.

The proposal did not apply to federal land, which makes up about 36 percent of the state.

Opponents had warned that the measure would devastate the oil and gas industry and negatively impact other economic sectors in Colorado, which ranks seventh in the nation in domestic oil production and fifth in natural gas production.

In July, a consortium of business groups led by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable think tank released a study saying that if the measure passed, there would be up to 147,800 fewer jobs through all sectors of the Colorado economy and up to $1.1 billion in lost tax revenue for state and local governments by 2030.

It also would result in up to $141 billion in lost oil and gas production by 2030, the study said.

But the dire warnings didn’t stop backers from collecting an estimated 123,000 valid signatures to put the proposal on the ballot.

They argued that the stricter rules would better protect people and the environment and give property owners more certainty about the location of new wells.

They also said the forecast on jobs was overestimated and that the state report estimating most non-federal lands would be off limits didn’t take into account directional drilling, which involves boring underground horizontally and could be used to access pockets of gas from beyond a buffer zone.

The proposal was one of more than a dozen statewide initiatives on the ballot.

Voters rejected a measure to raise income tax rates to fund public education. Amendment 73 would have increased the state individual income tax rate for people who earn more than $150,000 a year and boost the corporate income tax rate to provide an additional $1.6 billion annually for schools.

The proposal came in a state that has typically been averse to raising taxes. Voters rejected similar measures in 2011 and 2013 by 2-to-1 margins.

Opponents argued that the measure would be bad for the economy and would not guarantee better academic performance. They also said the state Legislature would not have been able to adjust tax thresholds to account for inflation.

Supporters argued that the state needs a sustainable source of income after funding was cut following the 2008 recession.

Other ballot initiatives include two that would increase funding for transportation and highway projects, another to lower the age requirement to serve in the Legislature from 25 to 21 and one to clarify language in the state Constitution to ban slavery and involuntary servitude under all circumstances.

A similar slavery initiative failed in 2016. Supporters said then it was likely defeated because of confusing ballot language.

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