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Colorado 350 has set out to ask Colorado voters in 2024 to phase out new oil and gas leasing before 2031. Why so soon?

 

350 Colorado and associated groups coalesced as Safe & Health Colorado have launched an effort that members hope will result in a ballot proposal in the 2024 general election.

If successful, this ballot initiative would end new oil and gas permits issued on lands governed by state government before the end of 2030.

In an interview with Big Pivots, Micah Parkin, the executive director of 350 Colorado, said her group has been buoyed by polling that shows Coloradans are “very concerned about the impacts of the climate crisis that we see in our state.” Too, she added, “we feel this plan aligns with what scientists around the world are calling for, to phase out fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy.”

In 2021, Colorado was responsible for 3.7% of crude oil extraction in the United States, fifth among states. Texas was first at 42.4% and New Mexico second at 11.1%.

 

This is from Big Pivots 73 (April 27, 2023). Please consider subscribing—or, just maybe a donation?

 

Colorado ranked seventh in natural gas production. It is responsible for 4.9% of the nation’s production.

“We really need to be dealing with our contribution to the climate crisis,” she said.

An additional impetus is more localized. Oil and gas drilling has a substantial contribution in creating high ozone levels during summer months.

Organizers have created two, overlapping draft proposals, unsure which one they will eventually seek to put before voters. They will use polling to evaluate which one is most likely to be approved.

One measure would specifically target oil and gas operations that use hydrofracturing technology, i.e. “fracking,” and the other more broadly all oil and gas drilling.

Both proposals have been submitted to the Legislative Council as required by state law. The state agency is required by law to “review and comment” on initiative petitions, basically to ward off confusions and make sure the proposals conform to state law.

In their first draft, the proponents said they wanted to phase out and discontinue the issuance of new oil and gas operation permits by the state’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by Dec. 31, 2030. The Legislative Council asked whether those permits would be effective beyond this deadline or would there be expiration dates?

The reviewers at the Colorado Capitol also suggested using “gases,” the more familiar spelling, instead of “gasses.”

And then the law requires a single title for the bill? What would that title be?

The Legislative Council also recommended addressing the loss of severance taxes on oil and gas extracted, as those severance taxes are used to fund a wide variety of programs in Colorado, half to water projects and other natural resource management programs, and the other half to local governments.

In fiscal year 2018-2019, before covid slowed drilling, the tax yielded almost $236 million, according to the Legislative Council.

The draft language also calls for a “state program to explore transition strategies for oil and gas workers.”

Legislative council reviewers responded: “Is the new program intended to merely ‘identify’ funding sources for workers and communities to access on their own OR is the program intended to provide funding to assist workers and communities?”

Ballots for the November 2024 election won’t go out until October 2024, still more than 17 months away. Why the effort now?

Micah Parkin

Parkin points to the necessary legwork, including signatures for petitions for the measure, whatever is finally chosen, to go on the ballot. “It will be more affordable and there will be less competition with other campaigns.”

Why not seek a legislative remedy instead of going directly to voters?

“We actually have been proposing it as legislation, and there was a legislator willing to cover it, but was unable to get leadership approval to move a bill forward. It was a bill just to study the phase-out, what it would be like. And our governor (Jared Polis) really has not shown much interest in reining in the oil and gas industry. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission has permitted more than 5,000 wells since he has been in office (starting in January 2019), about 1,000 a year. He really has shown no interest. We have talked with different staff members and have gotten no interest, even though (the oil and gas sector) is a massive source of greenhouse gases and runs in opposition to our emission goals and our air quality goals.”

Downsides? “It takes a lot of effort, it’s expensive, and it takes a lot of fundraising. Unfortunately we don’t have the money of the fossil fuel industry.”

Allen Best
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