UPDATE 1-Colorado group drops plans for anti-fracking ballot measure

(Adds comment from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association)

DENVER, June 10 (Reuters) - A Colorado environmental group dropped plans to place an anti-fracking measure on the state’s November ballot citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the second U.S. state initiative to be put off this year over virus worries.

The group Colorado Rising had been exploring several ballot initiatives for more stringent regulations on oil and gas drilling in Colorado, the fifth-largest U.S. oil-producing state, after a 2018 effort failed.

The group’s decision comes as the U.S. oil industry is scaling back drilling due to record inventories, falling demand and low oil prices amid the pandemic.

“We have concerns about volunteers,” said Joe Salazar, Colorado Rising’s executive director, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was also too late to employ electronic gathering methods, he said, for which rules are still being developed.

A California initiative seeking to raise that state’s cap on medical pain and suffering damages to $1.2 million from $250,000 was also pushed to 2022 over the health crisis.

The group leading the California initiative, Consumer Watchdog, collected signatures but will defer filing so voters do not have to make decisions amid the pandemic, President Jamie Court said.

Colorado Rising was behind a 2018 initiative proposing to increase the distance between new oil and gas drilling and public parks and schools.

Oil companies spent millions of dollars to block that measure, arguing it would hurt the state’s economy, and it failed with only 43% votes in favor.

The number of fracking fleets working in the United States has also fallen to 58 from more than 400 a year ago, according to consultancy Primary Vision.

Opponents of the anti-fracking measure praised Colorado Rising’s decision.

“The end of this constant cycle of divisive battles at the ballot box will bring much needed stability and predictability to our state business climate as we begin to climb out of this economic hole,” said Dan Haley, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. (Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Stephen Coates and Tom Hogue)