DENVER - Backers of a proposed ballot question to increase local regulation over the oil and gas industry threw in the towel Monday, admitting the group was unlikely to collect almost 86,000 signatures by the Aug. 4 deadline.
The Colorado Community Rights Network was relying almost exclusively on volunteers to collect signatures to put a question on the November ballot asking voters whether local communities should be able to regulate industries that threaten a community's health or safety. Although the ballot language is broad, it was aimed specifically at the influx of oil and gas development close to urban areas along the Front Range.
Cliff Willmeng with Community Rights Network said it is hard to estimate how many signatures the group has gathered.
"We're pretty convinced that we won't meet the full requirement," said Willmeng, who successfully ran a campaign in Lafayette to increase city regulation of hydraulic fracturing. "The window that we were given to collect signatures was narrowed by the legal challenges." The group was cleared to begin gathering signatures on May 23, leaving a short two-month window to gather thousands of signatures.
Two other fracking-related initiatives are underway. Initiative 88 would create a 2,000-foot setback requirement for oil and gas wells from homes. Initiative 89 simply asserts that communities have a right to clean air, water and scenic values.
Both are backed by Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, a group supported by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder. Those initiatives also have until Aug. 4 to submit 86,000 signatures from valid registered voters in Colorado.
Dan Hopkins, with the group Coloradans for Responsible Reform, said in a statement he wouldn't be surprised if those efforts fail as well.
"We started out with 19 radical measures to ban oil and gas drilling in Colorado," Hopkins said. "One by one, they have fallen by the wayside because the more that Coloradans examine the issues, the more they see them for what they really are."
Willmeng said his group likely won't back the other two initiatives and will instead focus on the battles at the local level and prepare for the 2016 ballot.
"The civil rights movement didn't triumph in six months and we consider this a movement rather than a campaign," Willmeng said. "We're here for the long haul."
Gov. John Hickenlooper has worked to find a legislative compromise that would keep the issue off the ballot in November, but to date those efforts have not been successful.
A spokeswoman from the governor's office said the work continues to find a solution away from the ballot box.
Draft legislation has been presented to stakeholders that would at least in some ways give local communities more say over where and how oil and gas is extracted. But a consensus has not been reached on the divisive issue.
Last week, the Colorado Association of Home Builders voted to back the proposed legislation - a move that led lobbyist Steve Durham to resign his position with the group saying "rather than ask you or any responsible member of the Colorado General Assembly to vote for this legislation, I have chosen, after over 15 years as the lobbyist for the CAHB, to resign my position."
If the draft legislation does reach a point where it has broad bi-partisan support, Hickenlooper has said he would call a special session this summer to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider a bill.
Contact Megan Schrader