oil gas pump jacks

Pump Jacks working out in Weyburn Saskatchewan, Canada. Image taken from a tripod.

Opponents might be sitting out this November's election, but supporters of the oil and gas industry won't, its advocacy organization told Colorado Politics Thursday. 

Protect Colorado said it is out collecting signatures on initiatives 284 to prevent government restrictions on using natural gas in new homes and 304 to require those who petition onto the ballot in the future to provide the costs of their proposals.

Colorado Rising, a group that has sought to restrict where and how the industry operates, told Colorado Politics last Friday that it was unlikely to marshal volunteers to collect the minimum 124,632 signatures from registered voters by Aug. 3 to qualify for the November ballot.

Coronavirus restrictions have provided a high bar for candidates trying to make the ballot and for those trying to questions before voters statewide in November.

The Colorado Supreme Court still has not decided on constitutional merits of the May 15 executive order signed by Gov. Jared Polis, who sought to allow petitions submitted by email. State law requires petitions to be gathered in-person. Business groups across the state sued or supported the lawsuit, saying emergency powers don't extend into elections.

"Protect Colorado is committed to ensuring consumer choice for energy and total cost transparency for all proposed ballot initiatives," the organization said Thursday.

"The Consumer Choice measure on Natural Gas Restrictions, Initiative 284, prevents any special interest from removing your choice on what energy is used in homes and businesses for cooking, heating, and running critical equipment. If passed, local and state governments could not enact laws banning clean-burning, affordable, and reliable natural gas usage in new construction."

Initiative 304, called the Fiscal Impact Statement Measure, "would provide voters with clear information about the total cost of any proposed ballot initiative. Total costs include the impact on employment (job losses or gains), Colorado’s GDP, tax revenues, as well as the initial price tag," Protect Colorado stated. "Colorado voters deserve to know the actual cost of a ballot measure on our economy, jobs, and taxes before they are asked to vote on it."

Joe Salazar, the executive director of Colorado Rising, reiterated Thursday that the time and expense of getting on the ballot this year would make it nearly impossible for either side to qualify for November ballot, but he said their deep pockets in the industry to hire an army of professional petition gatherers means anything's still possible. 

"That's the thing about oil and gas, they're going to do what they're going to do and it doesn't matter what anybody else says," said Salazar, a former state representative who lost a close race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general two years ago.

"We'll just have to mount a furious defense against them."

Colorado Rising is the juggernaut citizens' organization behind Proposition 112, the unsuccessful statewide ballot measure in 2018 to require 2,500-foot setbacks from oil and gas operations, instead of the current 500-foot setbacks.

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called Colorado Rising's decision not to go to the ballot this year "a win for Colorado and for working families from Greeley to Grand Junction and everywhere in between."

"The end of this constant cycle of divisive battles at the ballot box will bring much needed stability and predictability to our state business climate as we begin to climb out of this economic hole," Haley continued. "It provides a needed degree of certainty for Colorado businesses. We can now focus our time and efforts on moving Colorado forward and producing energy cleaner, safer and better than anywhere on the globe.”

Another potential ballot measure from oil-and-gas supporters would replace political appointees on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission with a panel of nonpartisan experts appointed by judges based on qualifications instead of connections.

Dave Davia, one of the chief petitioners, said last week they would press ahead to get on the ballot, as well, after trying unsuccessfully to broker a truce with environmentalist groups.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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