CO Supreme Court affirms setbacks Initiative 97

Ballot initiative language for safer setbacks from fracking operations approved by Supreme Court

Colorado Rising begins signature collection for November ballot

DENVER, CO, April 6, 2018 – This morning, the Colorado Rising statewide ballot Initiative 97 was approved by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Initiative 97 calls for 2,500-foot setbacks, or buffer zones, between new oil and gas development and any occupied buildings or “vulnerable areas,” which include playgrounds, public open space, any body of water or an area designated by the local government. Federal lands, which make up roughly one-third of the state, would be exempt from this initiative.

The ballot initiative was approved by the state’s Title Board in January and passed a rehearing in early February.

The oil & gas industry immediately challenged on the basis that it would grant local governments the authority to determine those “vulnerable areas” to be protected.

On March 6, Neil Ray, president of the Colorado Association of Mineral Rights Owners, petitioned the Court on behalf of oil & gas interests to deny the initiative, claiming it violates election laws and would be misleading to voters.

Industry objections cited a 2016 study by University of Colorado that concluded a 2,500 setback would eliminate access to over 90 percent of land available for oil and gas development. As a result, “Colorado could lose 104,000 jobs annually over the next 15 years, the state’s GDP would decline an average of $14 billion, and Coloradans stood to lose an $8.3 billion annually in real income,” according to the brief.

State regulations currently place minimum setback requirements for oil and gas facilities at 350 feet for outdoor activity areas like playgrounds, 500 feet from occupied buildings, and 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings like schools or hospitals.

The statutory initiative overcame all arguments from the oil and gas industry. This represents the final hurdle before statewide signature gathering, which will begin immediately. Colorado citizens have until August 6, to collect approximately 100,000 signatures in order to qualify for the ballot in November.

Recent polling shows support for the initiative at 69 percent from registered Colorado voters. The Supreme Court decision comes just 11 days before the one year anniversary of the gas explosion in Firestone that killed two and critically injured a local school teacher. The tragedy set off a fierce statewide debate on the safety of oil and gas practices in Colorado. Since then 13 more explosions related to oil & gas operations have occurred in the state.

The 2,500-foot buffer zone corresponds to an emergency call issued by Greeley Fire Chief Dale Lyman in response to a leak at Northridge High School on September 8, 2017. It was reported that crews responding to a valve leak at an oil and gas facility near the high school football stadium initiated an emergency call to everyone within a half-mile radius of the gas leak.

Rep. Dave Young, (D-Greeley) candidate for State Treasurer, said in a letter about the incident: “Clearly, a half-mile setback is what our trusted first responders believe is a safe distance.”

The decision also comes several weeks after a new 266-page report on more than 1,200 peer reviewed studies shows increased risk of asthma, birth defects and cancer. The report was released by Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

“Pregnant women have a major risk, not only to themselves but they’re carrying a fetus whose cells are multiplying continuously,” said Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, retired Army colonel and the president-elect of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Studies from the Colorado School of Public Health have indicated increased incidence in cancer, birth defects and respiratory problems within a half-mile from oil and gas fracking operations.

On Friday Coloradans responded to the news:

“As a Colorado farmer, I am concerned about the effects of a changing climate and the stress our local ecosystems and resources are under,” said Mark Guttridge of Ollin Farms. “Our most precious resource, water, is getting pumped into the ground and removed from the natural hydrological cycle. I’ve seen the dangers of off-gas events from fracking operations first hand, seen another farming family’s blood tests showing exposure; seen the unacceptable statistics for spills contaminating soil and water. Twenty-five hundred foot setback is the LEAST we can do to try to protect the civil liberties of Coloradans.”

“We are thrilled that our language has been approved by the Supreme Court,” said Colorado Rising President Tricia Olson. “We have already handed out hundreds of petitions to our volunteers who are all set to begin circulating. Through this initiative, we have a direct route to protect our communities from the dangers of rampant oil and gas development using fracking. We are calling on all Coloradans who value clean water, clean air and the safety of their families to sign this petition for safer setbacks, and to help by circulating a petition. Together, we can protect our water and our homes.”

“Fracking is hazardous to our health, poses serious safety risks, and compromises our home values. It’s a bad neighbor,” said Suzanne Cabral, registered nurse and mother who has been working with neighbors and other parents to protect her community from fracking in Thornton. “I’m concerned about my children’s health and future generations. This industry is responsible for 30 to 40 percent of asthma-inducing smog that gives the Front Range an ‘F’ air quality grade by the American Lung Association.”

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