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Proposition 112 fails, but big vote total signals oil and gas setbacks will be headed to the Colorado capitol

Industry spent $40 million fighting the measure and is reluctant to face a rematch in 2020

Oil and gas facilities in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Proposition 112 — which sought to keep 2,500 feet between new oil and gas operations and any home in Colorado — did not win.

But its proponents may not have lost either.

The ballot initiative was voted down 57 percent to 43 percent, but it garnered more than 825,000 votes — a potentially powerful statement to Jared Polis, the new Democratic governor, and to a now Democratic-controlled legislature.

“It sends a huge message. And it’s not just people in Boulder and Broomfield, it’s people in Jefferson County, Arapahoe and around the state,” said state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a critic of the oil and gas industry who was elected Boulder County commissioner on Tuesday.

At least 10 Democratic sponsored bills addressing various oil and gas issues in the last five years died in the Republican-controlled Senate. All were opposed by the industry.

“The sponsors of 112 did what they needed to do, get at least 40 percent of the vote,” an industry-oriented public affairs consultant said.

 “This is not a partisan issue,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of the environmental group Conservation Colorado. ”A defeat of 112 doesn’t mean people voted to have oil and gas facilities closer to their homes.”

Anne Lee Foster, one of the organizers for 112, said “We were outspent 43 to 1. I am immensely proud of our effort. We’ll keep pushing and fighting.”

She said “it’s too early to say” whether her group, Colorado Rising, would launch another ballot initiative in 2020.

The oil and gas industry spent more than $40 million to oppose 112, according to its campaign committee Protecting Colorado’s Environment Economy and Energy Independence.

Rematch? No thanks.

A rematch in 2020 “is something to be avoided,” said Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council.

Term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, who helped negotiate a similar measure off the ballot in 2012 with the promise of citizen-guided reforms to drilling rules, on Tuesday night said he hopes to see negotiations begin again.

“I hope we can call the stakeholders together so we can figure out a compromise once and for all, so we’re not going back and forth with these initiatives and spending tens of millions of dollars twisting ourselves in knots,” he said.

The industry saw 112 — which called for a 2,500-foot setback from dwellings, public areas such as play grounds and streams, wetlands and other natural feature — as an existential threat.

An analysis by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimated that 85 percent of nonfederal surface land in Colorado would be off-limits to oil and gas development.

“We are grateful that the voters of Colorado saw this for what it was, a ban on our industry,” said Dan Haley, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Nevertheless, the concerns of large-scale, industrial oil and gas operations locating near homes and schools, which drove 112, remain said State Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield.

The lack of progress on these issues pushed some people to vote for 112.

“People don’t feel the process is fair or protecting them,” said Gray, who opposed 112.

Governor-elect Polis backed a setback ballot measure in 2012 that was eventually withdrawn. He opposed 112 during the campaign, but said he has said he supports a measure of local control in oil and gas issues. The state has primacy in regulating oil and gas operations.

The all-Democratic statehouse may offer a chance to move on some of the issues that have been “bottled up,” said State Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, who in the last two years sponsored seven bills focusing on such issues such as setbacks from schools and buttressing local control over oil and gas operations.

“We know the political environment has changed and welook forward to many conversations with the governor and leaders of bothparties,” Haley said. “We know the new governor supports local control. We justdon’t know what that means.”

Amendment 74 also voted down

Another oil-and-gas-related ballot measure, Amendment 74, was defeated 46 percent to 54 percent. The measure would have put in the state constitution the right of property owners to seek damages for any diminution of property value caused by government action.

Opponents, including many local officials, said the measure would have left zoning and land use management in turmoil. The amendment was sponsored by the Colorado Farm Bureau, but was backed with $11 million in oil and gas money.

“While the Colorado Farm Bureau is disappointed with the electoral outcome of Amendment 74, we are content knowing that our system of government worked as it should,” Shawn Martini, a bureau vice president, said in a statement.

Martini attributed the defeat to “shadowy” Washington, D.C, opposition groups.

Among the amendment’s opponents were the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., the city councils of half a dozen municipalities, the Colorado Association of Realtors, and Hickenlooper.

Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.

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