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Setback measure for oil and gas facilities makes Colorado ballot

DENVER -- A measure that would set a new minimum setback distance for oil and gas facilities in Colorado has made the state ballot.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said Wednesday that Initiative 97 is projected to have enough valid signatures to secure its place on the ballot in the fall.

The measure would require all new oil and gas developments -- including fracking facilities -- be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other areas designated as vulnerable.

Current regulations require facilities to be set back 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Language of Initiative 97 states that proximity to oil and gas development has "detrimental impacts on public health, safety, welfare and the environment."

The measure says the impacts can be lessened by placing the facilities farther from occupied structures and vulnerable areas.

It defines "occupied structures" as any building that requires a certificate of occupancy or that is intended for human occupancy, including homes, schools and hospitals.

"Vulnerable areas" include places such as playgrounds, sports fields, public open spaces, irrigation canals and bodies of water.

The measure states the new distance requirement would apply to all new oil and gas developments not on federal land.

It also says the state or a local government can require a larger buffer zone than 2,500 feet.

Patrica Nelson has been a vocal proponent of Initiative 97 and is thrilled it made the ballot.

Her son will son go to Bella Romero Academy in Greeley, where a fracking site is about 700 feet from the school's ballfields.

"I never thought it would get this far," Nelson said of the fracking rigs. "I never thought that anybody in their right mind would allow this to happen anywhere."

She's concerned about the health affects of the oil and gas wells.

But others are concerned the changes to new wells would take away their property rights and drastically hurt the state's economy.

"It pretty much shuts down oil and gas in the state of Colorado. It won’t do it right away. There will be still wells operating for quite a while, but they will soon be uneconomical and the industry will leave the state," said Neil Ray, president of the Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners.

According to a report from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Initiative 97 would make 54 percent of Colorado's land unavailable for new oil and gas development.

It would make 85 percent of nonfederal land inaccessible. The study also stated the buffers around vulnerable areas would have a much greater impact on limiting space available for development than the buffers around occupied buildings.

Protect Colorado, a group that says it "supports responsible oil and natural gas development, which is vital to Colorado's economic future," is against Initiative 97.

According to Protect Colorado's website, the organization's chairman argued that voters would not support the measure.

"We are confident people see this measure for what it is, an extreme proposal funded by those in Boulder and Washington, D.C. who do not have [Coloradans'] best interests in mind," said Chip Rimer.

"This measure will devastate the state of Colorado by destroying over 100,000 jobs over the next decade, eliminate billions in state revenues and negatively impact essential services such as health care, education, transportation, fire and safety.”

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