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Colorado oil and gas proposals fall short on signatures

DENVER (AP) — Backers of two proposed ballot measures to change how oil and gas drilling is regulated failed to get enough signatures to get them on this fall’s ballot, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said Monday.

One proposal sought to require new oil and gas wells to be at least 2,500 feet from homes and schools in Colorado, which opponents said that would leave 90 percent of the state off-limits to future drilling.

The other would have authorized local governments to prohibit, limit, or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development. The state has insisted — and Colorado courts have ruled — that state regulations have precedence over local municipalities.

Both were opposed by the energy industry and by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose administration has insisted on state regulation of the industry.

Williams said supporters submitted more than the minimum 98,492 signatures required for each proposal but not enough to compensate for those rejected during a random sample of the signatures submitted. He also said that several potentially forged signature lines were discovered on the petition for the drilling setbacks, Initiative 78, and have been referred to state Attorney General’s office for investigation.

They have 30 days to appeal Williams’ decision in state court in Denver.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has long been a contentious issue in Colorado, the nation’s No. 7 energy-producing state. Fracking injects a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack open formations and make it easier to recover oil and gas.

Combined with other drilling techniques, it opened up previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves and boosted the economy, although low oil prices have led to widespread layoffs and a steep decline in drilling.

Critics worry about danger to the environment and public health from fracking spills and leaks. Others say around-the-clock noise, lights and fumes from drilling rigs make their homes unlivable as oilfields overlap with growing communities.

The industry says fracking is safe and that drilling companies take steps to minimize the disturbances.

The proximity of oil and gas development to residential neighborhoods also is a contentious issue in Colorado. The Denver-Julesburg Basin, described by the American Petroleum Institute as one of the richest natural gas fields in the nation, overlaps the northern Denver suburbs and surrounds Greeley.

Drilling rigs, storage tanks and active wells sometimes stand within a few hundred feet of homes. That prompts frequent complaints from residents about noise, odors and traffic. Others worry about health and safety issues.

Initiative 75, which called for local control of fracking (http://bit.ly/2bwClkv), was filed after the state Supreme Court overturned attempts by local governments to impose their own rules.

The court ruled that a ban on fracking in Longmont and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins were invalid because they conflicted with state law. State officials and the industry argued the state has the primary authority to regulate energy, not local governments.


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