Not a setback: Prop 112 failure still leaves local citizen groups encouraged
(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional reaction from Garfield County and state elected officials.)
Seeking to establish new setback restrictions between oil and gas operations and homes, Proposition 112 was shot down by Colorado voters on Tuesday as oil and gas facility statewide setbacks will remain 500 feet from residences.
“I’m very pleased the voters of Colorado did not pass Prop 112 because I believe it would have harmed our state and particularly Garfield County a great deal,” Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said on Wednesday. “It was refreshing to me to see both fights of the political spectrum come together to make sure this did not pass.”
The current setback rules, established by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2013, set a 500-foot statewide setback from residences, as well as a 1,000-foot setback from high occupancy buildings such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
The measure failed in the statewide vote by nearly a 57 percent margin for those opposed.
Proposition 112 sought to push the setback for oil and gas facilities to at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other vulnerable areas.
“We’re certainly disappointed it lost,” said Leslie Robinson, chairwoman for the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a citizen group in Western Colorado, who along with other advocacy groups were among the loudest local voices in support of the initiative throughout the election.
“We are, however, encouraged that since (Jared) Polis won we will be revisiting setbacks,” she said of the governor’s race. “It’s one step back, but with a Democrat winning we might be able to get two steps forward in 2019 through the legislative process.”
Commissioner Samson felt the extent of the setback, 2,500 feet, roughly five times current setback rules in some instances, was clearly too extreme for voters.
He added that, with Polis now in the governor chair, he like other local politicians expects this conversation to continue.
State Rep. Bob Rankin, newly elected to two more years, said that with Democrat Polis as governor he expects the issue of setbacks and safe oil and gas policies to continue to be discussed.
“I just expect that to happen,” Rankin said. “I think we all do. So it won’t be 2,500 feet inside, but it will be discussed.”
While the proposal received both widespread criticism and support from officials throughout Colorado, just being on the ballot, which required nearly 100,000 signatures from registered Colorado voters, may open the door for future setback rules discussion in Colorado, supporters said.
“It’s a bummer we didn’t win, but I’m not concerned,” Robinson added. “I’m encouraged we got as much support as we did. Colorado Rising didn’t even raise $1 million to fight against $40 mill [from the oil and gas industry].”
Many local and statewide officials spoke out against the initiative, including Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, who was just voted in by voters for another four years, as well as Polis and his Republican opponent in the governor’s race, Walker Stapleton.
Parachute Mayor Roy McClung said the initiative failing is certainly a good thing for town.
“As we try to diversify economically, we are still very dependent on oil and gas,” he admitted.
He said the town considered totally revising the budget in case the initiative passed.
“In a few years we would have been really hurting in Parachute,” he added.
President and CEO of the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce Kasey Nispel said the initiative failing is very good news for Western Garfield, as there were large concerns throughout the county about what would happen.
“We’re very happy to see the voters came out in opposition [of Prop 112] and we won’t have to face really tough decisions,” she said.
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