Colorado’s oil and gas industry withdraws proposed 2022 ballot initiatives

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An oil pump jack in an industrial park near Frederick, Weld County, Colorado, on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

Colorado's ballot truce over oil and gas issues remains intact for this election season. Don't expect it to last forever, though.

Sponsors withdrew a set of pro-industry initiatives proposed for the November ballot last month. One set of possible ballot measures would have limited the ability of local governments to restrict natural gas access. Another proposal would have codified recent rules increasing the amount oil and gas companies must insure to cover well cleanup, limiting the possibility of even more expensive bonds and tougher regulations in the future. 

The main group exploring the measures was Protect Colorado, a nonprofit operating as the political arm of the state's fossil fuel industry. Spokesperson Laurie Cipriano said the organization decided those efforts weren't necessary after environmental groups and other oil and gas opponents did not propose their own ballot efforts. 

"Since none of the rumored anti-industry ballot measures aimed at limiting choice for reliable and affordable natural gas materialized, the measures explored by Protect Colorado were not needed at this time," Cipriano said. 

The move guarantees Colorado voters won't see another bruising battle over oil and gas this November. The latest statewide ballot brawl played out in 2018 over a plan to push drilling operations farther from homes and waterways. Industry groups spent more than $40 million to oppose the initiative, which voters rejected by more than 10 points.

Democratic lawmakers followed up with 2019 legislation to overhaul the state's oil and gas regulations. A year later, Gov. Jared Polis announced Protect Colorado and mainstream environmental groups had agreed to work to avoid any further ballot measures in 2022, which he said would allow regulators time to implement the legislation.

But not all environmental groups signed on to the agreement. Safe and Healthy Colorado, a coalition including many of the original backers of the 2018 initiative, discussed a range of ballot measures to address the climate and safety hazards of the oil and gas industry.

Micah Parkin, the executive director of the environmental group 350 Colorado and a lead organizer with Safe and Healthy Colorado, said there was no deal with the industry to jointly drop their ballot efforts. Instead, the coalition decided against submitting any proposals to allow more time to organize and fundraise for future election cycles.

"We can't let [the oil and gas industry] hold direct democracy of the people hostage when those efforts are needed," Parkin said.