Forum focuses on oil and gas-related ballot initiatives | PostIndependent.com

Forum focuses on oil and gas-related ballot initiatives

Two of the questions featured on the November ballot were discussed at length during the monthly Energy Advisory Board meeting in Rifle on Thursday as proponents and opponents on both sides of the aisle were invited to discuss their thoughts on Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 at the Oil and Gas Ballot Forum.

As Western Garfield County remains one of the biggest natural gas producers in the state, Proposition 112 was discussed first as over 100 people filled the seats of the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Auditorium to hear both sides of the issue.

Colorado Rising's Heidi Henkel, proponent for Proposition 112, was first to speak and argued the value of the initiative.

Proposition 112 seeks to push back the minimum requirement for new oil and gas developments to at least 2,500 from homes, schools, occupied buildings and water sources. The 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.

Henkel said there were several different reasons for the 2,500-foot setback — considered by some to be too extreme — as last year saw over a dozen explosions and fires related to oil and gas activity.

"[We have] what feels like very little control of this industry," she said.

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Among questions posed to Henkel were how the economic impact will be mitigated from the secondary unemployment that would be the result if this proposition were passed.

She said it was hard to determine but that she trusts people will be able to adapt.

Another question asked her if the health problems from the industry are so apparent, then why aren't more oil and gas employees getting sick.

On the other side, Simon Lomax with Vital for Colorado warned the dangers to the state and local economy if the proposition were to pass.

He began by thanking the Garfield County commissioners for their opposition of the initiative and mentioned that Democratic governor candidate Jared Polis is among those in opposition, showing how broad the consensus is.

He said the initiative would effectively end oil and gas in Garfield County and the state of Colorado and said it was deeply deceptive for it is not about protecting residential areas, but about banning the industry in the widest possible terms.

"2,500 feet is not a health and safety number, it's a political number," he added.

Lomax was asked from the audience why the setback is still a problem with technological advances in directional drilling. He said the setback would make directional not feasible in most areas.

For Amendment 74, which would require just compensation when a local or state government law or regulation causes any reduction in the fair market value of private property, Shawn Martini with Colorado Farm Bureau, Amendment 74 proponent, said the initiative would give private property owners more of a fighting chance.

As of now, government can remove up to 90 percent of the value of private property without having to be concerned about providing compensation, and this amendment would "level the playing field."

He was asked if the amendment opens every local government to frivolous lawsuits, which he did not feel was going to be a problem.

"This will even the playing field with government and property owners," he said.

Rick Ridder with the No on 74 Campaign had a different view, saying that this amendment could bankrupt cities and towns across Colorado.

He referenced Oregon in 2004, which passed a similar amendment, and in two years the state had over 7,000 lawsuits with over $19 billion in claims.

"Do you think our state could settle $19 billion?" he asked.

He said the amendment was too broad and could have unintended consequences. "When the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and Denver Post agree, it's a no for 74," he added.