Colorado Voters Nix Proposed Restrictions on Oil and Gas Drilling

Opponents argued it was total ban of energy production

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November 7, 2018

Colorado voters shot down a proposition that would have imposed significant new setback regulations on future oil and gas drilling in the state, a move many national political watchers thought could have been a bellwether signal regarding tougher environmental regulation for other parts of the nation as well.

About two-and-a-half hours after polls closed in Colorado, Proposition 112 was losing by a 57-42 split, with about 25 percent of the counties reporting. The spread was enough to have two local television news outlets declare the measure wouldn't pass.

Proposition 112 would have required all new drilling, including drilling using the technique of hydraulic fracturing known as "fracking," to be 2,500 feet away from any occupied building or other areas which the government would designate as "vulnerable areas."

Opponents of the measure argued that the setback was so broad it would have become a de facto statewide drilling ban.

The current setbacks in the state are 500 feet for a home and 1,000 feet for a school or hospital.

Because the ballot question was only asking voters to approve a statute as opposed to an amendment to the state constitution, the Colorado legislature could have modified the law if it had passed. And Colorado's Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper had hinted he might have called a special session if the question had passed.

"This is a big part of state's economy. You're talking 15 percent, some people say as much as 20 percent, of the state's economy," Hickenlooper told CBS4 in Denver. "And suddenly it goes to half? That is how you spell recession. And I think everybody needs to take a long, slow look and say 'Alright, how do we go forward?'—if it passes—'How do we get to what was intended?"

Hickenlooper is term-limited out of office this coming January, but the two major party candidates running to replace him both said they opposed the proposition. However, Governor-elect Jared Polis (D.) was not opposed to the setback distances proposed, but had other minor differences against the bill, according to the Aspen Times.

According to a 2016 summary from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Colorado ranked fifth in the nation for natural gas production, and seventh in production of crude oil.