The sponsors of a proposed initiative to repeal a new law overhauling oil and gas regulations aren’t moving forward with plans to put it on the ballot — for now.
They pledge to try next year if their predictions of cuts in oil and gas jobs, reduced state and local tax revenue and negative impacts on other businesses come true.
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney filed ballot proposals in early April to reverse Senate Bill 19-181, signed into law April 16. They were aiming for the 2019 ballot.
However, state election officials, who review proposals for placement on the ballot, rejected the measure last week. They said it violated the rule limiting an initiative to only one subject.
Kirkmeyer and Brackney requested a second hearing, but decided Thursday to shoot for 2020 instead. The rehearing, set for Friday, was cancelled.
“We’re going to be a little patient. We lost in the first hearing and we’re probably just going to accept that decision, although we don’t like it and don’t think it’s the right decision,” Brackney said.
And while there was strong support in the oil and gas industry for a ballot proposal, there was also a reluctance in some quarters to move forward without first seeing how the law is carried out, Brackney added. He noted that legislators made changes to the bill during the hearing process that were sought by the industry.
“I think a horrible bill was made not quite so horrible,” Brackney said. “Now, is it a good bill? I don’t think I’d go there yet.”
Kirkmeyer said during legislative committee hearings that the new regulations would devastate the economy of Weld County, the state’s No. 1 oil and gas producer.
Business organizations, some local elected officials and oil and gas representatives warned the law will undermine an industry that a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute said contributes about $31 billion to the Colorado economy and supports roughly 232,000 jobs.
Kirkmeyer said in a statement that the ballot proposal “has been sidelined for 2019 on a technicality and behind-the-scene maneuvering.” She said with the executive and legislative branches “controlled by extreme liberal Democrat politicians, we knew the deck was stacked against us going into this.”
A number of supporters have committed funding and resources and vowed “to go the distance,” Kirkmeyer said. “We plan to come back stronger, defend our state, our families and re-file a refined ballot initiative for 2020.”
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association wasn’t directly involved with the initiative and hasn’t taken an official stance, Scott Prestidge, the trade group’s spokesman said in a statement. COGA said it is committed to taking part as state officials write new rules for the law, Prestidge said, but shares “the commissioners’ concerns on how this new law could impact Colorado’s oil and gas families.”
The ballot proposal would have reversed the changes made by SB 181, which make protecting the public health, safety and the environment a priority when considering oil and gas development. It also clarifies that cities and counties can regulate oil and gas under the same planning and land-use powers they use to regulate other activities.
The initiative would have replaced the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, with what it described as an independent body. It would have rolled back the new oil and gas regulations.
One consequence would have been elimination of all oil and gas rules for up to six months, or until a new commission could be formed and rules could be readopted, said Matt Samelson, an environmental law attorney in Denver.
“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” Brackney said, “but we did write it in the heat of the legislative session.”
A 2020 proposal would make clear that the old rules would be in force while a new commission is formed, Brackney added.
Conservation Colorado, which supports the new law, challenged the initiative.
“It’s good to see that these initiatives are off the table for now, but these irresponsible proposals should never have been put forward in the first place,” Kelly Nordini, Conservation Colorado’s executive director, said in a statement. “I hope Colorado can move forward and put the health and safety of workers and communities and our environment first without further industry obstruction.”
Brackney, the former CEO of the Southwest Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, said it’s unfortunate the debate over oil and gas development is dominated by what he views as extreme positions.
“It’s actually a shame that both sides posture themselves as saying, ‘Oh, it’s just crazy liberal environmentalists or it’s just Big Oil,’ because I refuse those titles,” Brackney said.
However, Brackney said he thinks environmentalists will pressure local elected officials to block drilling in several cities and some counties.
Samelson said he doesn’t see that happening. He thinks the new law will be applied case by case, depending on the city or county.
“Many areas of the state are not going to see local governments taking much action on this,” Samelson said. “Certainly, there will be some local governments who will flex their muscles.”
A few cities and counties might temporarily put oil and gas activity on hold while they review their regulations, Samelson added. “But the whole of idea of bans is farfetched.”
State regulators have started work on rules to implement the law. An interim oil and gas commission will be appointed soon and a permanent one will be formed by July 2020.