GarCo commissioners not impressed with ballot push on setbacks | PostIndependent.com

GarCo commissioners not impressed with ballot push on setbacks

During a media tour in March, 2017, Emily Hornback with Western Colorado Congress showed how far the setback from local schools was. HB 1256, the bill her organization was advocating for at the time, would have clarified the setback from the school property line at 1,000 feet.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Garfield County Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson voiced their strong concern and disapproval on Monday for Ballot Initiative 97, which would push the setback on oil and gas operations to 2,500-feet.

The deadline to submit the state initiative was Aug. 6 and it is currently under signature line review, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Current setback rules, established by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2013, established a 500-foot statewide setback rule as well as a 1,000-foot setback from high occupancy buildings such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals.

Ballot Initiative 97 seeks a 2,500-foot setback between natural gas and oil sites and occupied structures, including homes, schools and hospitals, as well as other “vulnerable areas.”

According to the COGCC, the ballot initiative would prohibit oil and gas development on 99.8 percent of Garfield County private lands based on proximity to occupied structures and vulnerable areas.

“Basically 100 percent of private lands would be shut off [in Garfield County],” Commissioner Samson exclaimed. “Why isn’t it just a proposal to ban all oil and gas on private lands in Garfield County?”

Out of 11,000 wells in Garfield County, 10,000 are on private land, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

“This proposal will destroy Garfield County and Garfield County government,” he added.

The commissioners elected to seek advice from counsel and what they can do as a government, because “this is a direct threat against our government and employees,” Samson concluded.

Leslie Robinson, organizer with Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said the local advocacy group is in support of the initiative because, “we feel that the legislators, the government, industry and especially the COGCC have refused to hear citizen concerns about setbacks.”

Last March, members of the GVCA and Western Colorado Congress invited the public to see Colorado’s setback rule firsthand as they sought support for House Bill 1256. The bill was shot down by the state Senate committee 6-5 a month later and wanted to clarify the required 1,000-foot setback from schools to be from the school property line rather than the school building.

“If they had voluntarily gone up to 1,000 or 1,500 feet from homes … had the industry taken it upon themselves, this proposal would never have come to be,” Robinson said. “But because the industry decided to drill as close as possible, they screwed themselves.”

The initiative has also received heavy criticism from the oil and gas industry.

“The passage of the ill-conceived Initiative 97 would be utterly destructive to Colorado. It would decimate the future of the natural gas and oil industry and wreak havoc on our state’s economy,” Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said in a recent press release.

“Should Initiative 97 qualify for the ballot, there will not be an issue that would have a more devastating impact on the statewide ballot this year,” she said. “This disastrous proposal will negatively impact every Coloradan’s pocketbook, will reduce the quality of life that we value in Colorado, and cost thousands of jobs.”