The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Ballot Initiative Would Be a Setback to Colorado's Energy Progress

Jessica  Lutz

Jessica Lutz
Posted July 12, 2018

Barely four weeks ago, we highlighted the many ways in which responsible, well-regulated natural gas and oil development is benefiting life in Colorado — protecting the environment and public health and creating jobs and opportunity while providing significant support for public services including the state’s education system. Now, an anti-development group is attempting to dismantle Colorado’s progress.

The group, calling itself “Colorado Rising,” is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would bar natural gas and oil development from the vast majority of private and state-owned land.

Initiative 97’s 2,500-foot setback provision – similar to a 2016 initiative that didn’t collect enough signatures to be included on the November ballot that year – would designate buffer zones around occupied structures and “vulnerable” areas, prohibiting natural gas and oil development in those zones.

The impact on energy development would be significant, according to an assessment by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley:

“Initiative 97 would ensure 85 percent of private and state-owned land in Colorado would not be accessible for natural gas and oil development. In Weld County alone, it would ensure 78 percent of surface land would be off limits to natural gas and oil development. Clearly this is an attempt to stop energy development in our state and this impact statement proves it. This is bad for Colorado all the way around.”

Colorado is recognized as a leader in natural gas and oil regulation with one of the most comprehensive regulatory programs in the nation, governing every facet of the industry. Current regulations require a setback of 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings and 500 feet in all other areas, and are viewed as the toughest in the nation. Smart, effective regulation is a key factor in the mutually beneficial relationship between the state and industry, and for its part, industry is committed to safely operating to protect the communities where our employees work and raise their families and the environment, which is important to everyone.

In all, including federal lands, more than half of the state of Colorado would be made off-limits to new natural gas and oil development by Initiative 97. And, in Colorado’s top five natural gas and oil producing counties, 61 percent of the total surface area — a whopping 94 percent of the non-federal land in those counties— would be inaccessible.

Colorado’s natural gas output has doubled since 2001, supporting  hundreds of thousands of jobs and generating billions in combined tax revenues and economic impact to the state. Tax revenues from producing counties benefit all of Colorado, flowing into the state’s general fund for spending on public education, transportation and other local government projects.

According to the COGCC assessment, Initiative 97 would mean fewer jobs, a stifling of local economies and a severe reduction in revenue to the rest of the state. Education systems in particular would feel the impact of this initiative. According to the Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners:

“[S]ince 1980, the Colorado Land Board’s education funds received over $560 million in revenue from oil and gas leases in Colorado’s Wattenberg Field. In the last two years alone, these assets generated $166 million in revenue and interest, which funded K-12 public schools as well as Colorado’s higher education institutions… [U]nder Initiative 97, the State Land Board wouldn’t reap any of the benefits of future innovations in oil and gas production because no new drilling would be permitted.”


The American energy renaissance of the past decade has been the result of an unprecedented level of production activity in states such as Colorado that have plentiful natural gas and oil resources, allowing the U.S. to become a global leader in energy production while also leading the world in reducing carbon emissions. It also plays an essential role in supporting the high quality of life in Colorado.

Beyond providing over 60 percent of the energy consumed in the state — with nearly 75 percent of all state residences using U.S. natural gas as their primary heating source — natural gas and oil support more than 232,900 state jobs, contribute more than $31.4 billion to the state’s economy, and account for almost 10 percent of the gross state product. The industry supports 6.5 percent of all employment in the state, and the average wage in these jobs is more than twice Colorado’s average wage.

For the full picture, take a look at our recent report. Colorado has demonstrated that natural gas and oil, state regulators and other stakeholders can work together on effective energy regulation that strengthens safe and responsible natural gas and oil production. Without harmful regulations like those proposed in Initiative 97, we can continue to bring powerful benefits to the state economy and individual Coloradoans.


Jessica Lutz is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. Jessica joined API after 10+ years leading the in-house marketing and communications for non-profits and trade associations. A Michigan native, Jessica graduated from The University of Michigan with degrees in Communications and Political Science. She resides in Washington, D.C., and spends most of her free time trying to keep up with her energetic Giant Schnauzer, Jackson.