DENVER — A coalition of progressive, environmental advocacy groups, together called Safe and Healthy Colorado, submitted a ballot initiative proposal to the State Legislative Council last week with hopes to phase out new oil and gas permits by 2030.
"It all relates as far as our dependence on fossil fuels," said Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado, which is part of the Safe and Healthy Colorado coalition. "But unfortunately, we are still allowing a whole lot of extraction to happen here in the state, which is highly problematic for both our air quality problems and climate change issues."
Parkin says they've submitted two versions of the ballot initiative language to the state legislative council, which is proposed for the 2024 ballot.
One of the versions of the proposed initiative reads as follows:
Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a reduction of pollution from oil and gas operations, and, in connection therewith, protecting land, water and air by requiring the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to phase out oil and gas expansion by 2030 through a gradual decrease in the issuance of new oil and gas permits, prioritizing reduction of new oil and gas permits in disproportionately impacted communities, protecting public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife from existing oil and gas operations, transitioning the Commission’s duties after 2030 to monitoring, plugging and remediating previously permitted oil and gas operations, and providing assistance to workers and communities most impacted by the reduction in new oil and gas operations.
The difference between the two versions is that one of them doesn't include language related to providing assistance to workers and communities most impacted by the reduction in new oil and gas operations, Parkin said.
Parkin said this initiative is focused on new permits, but existing production would be allowed to continue.
"It would help to protect our air, our land, our water quality and also our climate," Parkin said.
According to data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), in 2022, there were 1,115 well permits approved by COGCC. To date in 2023, there have been 414 well permits approved.
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Colorado is the fifth-largest crude oil-producing state, with 90% of production coming from Weld County.
"It would have a devastating impact not just on our industry, but on industries across Colorado," said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. "We understand everything that we do has an impact to people. So we work very hard to mitigate that impact, whether that's noise, truck traffic, air emissions."
The association stands opposed to the measure, and Haley argues that if it were to get on the ballot and be approved by voters, that it could cause job loss across the industry and that they're already under strict state regulation with oil and gas operations.
"I think Coloradans would reject it because they don't want to pay more for their energy than they're already paying right now," he said. "They don't want to pay more at the pump than they're already paying right now."
He added that while permits might stop, he believes the demand for oil and gas would not.
"We're at a time now where we know we need energy," he said. "So the question becomes: Where do you want to get your energy?"
In 2018, Proposition 112, which would have created a 2,500-foot buffer zone around “occupied structures” and “vulnerable areas” where future oil and gas production would be, failed.
According to Parkin, they have until around August of next year to get the number of signatures needed for it to be put on the ballot in 2024.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with the deadline for signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.
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