Oil & gas industry pumps money into property rights initiatives

What about your property rights when this happens? [Photo credit: Joel Dyer/Boulder Weekly]

Petitions are currently circulating for Initiative 97 in favor of a 2500-foot setback requirement for oil & gas drilling. But that’s not the only petition in need of signatures. Two dozen initiatives have been approved for circulation. Several are backed by the state’s oil & gas industry.

Protect Colorado was founded in 2014, to fight ballot measures in favor of setbacks and local government control over oil & gas drilling. After a late night meeting between Gov. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Jared Polis, the ballot measures were withdrawn in exchange for a task force — a win-win for the industry.

As a pro-industry group, Protect Colorado has received more campaign contributions than any political committee in state history: $31 million. Anadarko and Noble Energy, the state’s two largest drillers are their primary funders, accounting for more than $21 million in contributions.

Two years ago, when setbacks and local control initiatives failed to make the ballot, Protect Colorado diverted nearly $3 million to Raise the Bar, another industry-backed group formed to pass Amendment 71, which ensured its passage. Historically, all citizen-backed ballot initiatives are required to gather signatures to get on the ballot. Since the passage of Amendment 71 in 2016, signatures for constitutional amendments must be gathered from voters everywhere across the state. “Raising the bar” has resulted in raising the cost of getting citizens’ initiatives on the ballot.

In March, Anadarko contributed $423,750 to Protect Colorado. In the same month PDC Energy and four other oil & gas companies donated an additional $250,000. Protect Colorado spokesperson Karen Crummy has confirmed that the group “is helping gather signatures for the private property measures.”

The group has not come out publicly targeting specific initiatives. However Initiatives 108 through 113 would essentially provide compensation to companies and property owners if state or local governments were to pass new regulations that diminish the value of private holdings. The measures are written broadly and appear to include any industry or property owner, not just oil and gas.

The Colorado Farm Bureau is currently gathering signatures for Initiative 108 — a constitutional amendment that would ensure property owners are properly compensated if new laws or regulations negatively impact the value of their property.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, your property is your property,” says Shawn Martini, Vice President of Advocacy for the Colorado Farm Bureau. “This new amendment will further strengthen property rights in Colorado and provide a way for property owners to get a fair hearing in court when their property value is impacted.”

Many farmers and ranchers directly benefit from the oil and gas industry, including regularly receiving royalty checks for drilling operations on their land.

According to a Colorado Public Radio report, the other representative on the private property measures is Michele Smith, a vice president at The Quaint Company, whose website says it is a “broad-reaching real estate and oil & gas investment company.”

Initiative 108 would amend the constitution to “prohibit the reduction in fair market value of private property by government law or regulation, or for public or private use, without just compensation.” Such broad language would seemingly include property owners facing oil & gas drilling in their neighborhoods.

In late March, Judge William J. Martinez struck down a key part of Amendment 71 saying it violates the doctrine of “one person, one vote.” He threw out the requirement that signatures be gathered from at least 2 percent of the total number of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

The Secretary of State’s Office promptly appealed the judge’s ruling to the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals saying, “We have a duty to defend what the voters have voted on in the Constitution.”

To prevent groups from filing ballot measures based on the lower bar set by Martinez’s ruling, the Secretary of State asked the appeals court to issue a “stay” on the ruling, which it did on April 12.

Thus, with the bar set higher than ever before by the industry, the uphill battle for signatures from voters across the state begins …

Click here to find out where to sign the petition for Initiative 97.

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