Anti-fracking group proposes limiting Colorado oil and gas drilling

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado environmental group on Tuesday launched a fresh push to curtail drilling in the fifth-largest oil-producing state, citing concerns over health and safety.

FILE PHOTO: An oil well is seen near Denver, Colorado February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

The initiatives, proposed by Colorado Rising, include a steep increase in the insurance that oil companies are required to carry to cover abandoned wells and would widen the separation between new wells and public areas. To gain a place on the state’s November ballot, the initiatives will require around 125,000 voter signatures.

In 2018, voters struck down a setback initiative that would have required new oil and gas activity to occur at least 2,500 feet (762 meters) from schools and parks. A similar rule failed to make the ballot in 2016, and two years later, energy companies defeated the measure.

Colorado Rising is considering six initiatives, among which include 2,000- to 2,500-foot setbacks, proposals that provide separation waivers on private land, and increasing the required insurance to $270,000 per well versus as little as $100,000 for multiple wells. It will decide later which proposal to offer.

The state last year passed a law which allowed local governments a greater say in oil and gas development. Some counties implemented temporary moratoriums on new drilling permits as result, but environmentalists said the law did not go far enough.

“We’ve been watching the legislative and rule-making process and found that the regulations that they’ve come up with have been insufficient and a lot of concessions have been granted to the oil and gas industry,” said Anne Lee Foster, spokeswoman for Colorado Rising.

Energy executives opposed the measures, saying they would threaten jobs and the economy. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) called the proposals “deja vu all over again” and said it expected legislators to reject the measure as they did in 2018.

The ballot initiatives “do not create real solutions and do not reflect the diversity of the state of Colorado,” said Rich Frommer, chief executive of Great Western Petroleum. His company will “prioritize community engagement instead of misguided one-size fits all approaches,” he said.

Colorado’s Weld County, north of Denver, produced 133.7 million barrels of oil last year, according to state data.

The state’s Department of Public Health and Environment last year published a study that said chemicals used in oil and gas development, including benzene, could potentially create health problems for people as far as 2,000 feet away. The study called for additional research.

(This refile fixes typographical error in paragraph eight)

Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio