Advocates defend Colorado oil and gas ballot measures

Colorado Secretary of State sampling ballot proposal to ensure state requirements were met.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Updated Aug. 11, 2016 at 10:17 AM
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DENVER, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Initiatives on oil and gas operations in Colorado will make their way to the November ballot despite questions about support, environmental groups said.

A coalition of environmental groups, led in part by Greenpeace, said there were enough signatures to move two initiatives onto the November ballot. Initiative No. 75 would move authority over oil and gas operations out of the hands of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee and into the hands of local authorities. No. 78 would require a 2,500-foot buffer zone around oil and gas operations, compared with the current 500-foot limit.

Lynn Bartels, a spokesperson for the Colorado Secretary of State, made comments to a local CBS affiliate that seemed to suggest there were questions about the requisite 98,492 signatures needed to get the initiatives on the ballot. She said many of the boxes at the state office that would usually hold petitions were empty.

"It may not mean anything but it may mean something," she was quoted as saying.

Diana Best, a campaigner for Greenpeace, said the Colorado Secretary of State needed to stay neutral on the ballot process. According to her, coalition staff worked over several months logging signatures and their records show more than 100,000 signatures on each initiative.

"We expect and ask that going forward the secretary of state's office will treat the process and Colorado citizens with greater respect," she said in an emailed statement.

The number of required signatures represents 5 percent of the votes cast in the last state general election. The Colorado Secretary of State said it was working to verify the total and would pull 5 percent of the petitions at random for verification. A decision is expected Sept. 7.

Supporters of the initiatives said they are a matter of public health, pointing to concerns about some of the chemicals used in the exploration of shale oil and natural gas. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled against measures similar to the two initiatives in question, defending the power of the state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper made a deal two years ago with the environmental advocacy community and those in the energy industry to ward off similar initiatives. Instead, he created a task force that would oversee the issue in a way he said would benefit residents and the state's economy.

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