EDITORIAL: Bad timing to ask Colorado voters to rule on fracking issues again

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It’s too soon.

Anti-fracking activists at Colorado Rising, however, haven’t gotten that message.

The group announced this week that it will try and go back to voters to mandate bigger, universal set-backs between structures and oil wells.

Why?

Colorado Rising was handed its hat on similar statewide Ballot Prop 112 in 2018. A serious 55 percent of voters turned that measure back.

Most importantly, the Colorado Legislature then wisely created the best of all solutions by creating a new statewide drilling regulatory system that makes public health paramount and allows local governments to impose their own drilling restriction, even on a case-by-case basis.

That was just last year. Colorado regulators are still rewriting the rules of engagement, and cities such as Aurora have yet to create a long-term program to address myriad concerns by residents, landowners and oil companies.

Rushing back to voters with something not only unneeded but rightfully unwanted is a waste of time, resources and the public’s attention.

For the past few years, some Colorado Rising members clearly defined what the problem was: Oil production is an environmentally problematic and sometimes dangerous process. Colorado Rising brought much-needed attention to the fact that, in a state as large and varied as Colorado, one set of development and environmental rules was inadequate and dangerous. Colorado Rising helped all of Colorado understand that public health and safety must always be the government’s priority, Before last year, state regulators were charged with promoting oil production by balancing public welfare and economic growth. It was a repugnant holdover from naive and misled former government officials.

Senate Bill 19-181 overturned those egregious mistakes, but an industry as complex and widespread as oil production will take more than a few months to re-regulate.

A Denver Post story by reporter Judith Kohler points out that one of the potential ballot measures would regulate oil drilling near superfund sites. That could essentially address a situation that’s arisen here in Aurora near the defunct Lowry Landfill and, possibly, Buckley Air Force Base. There’s a lot more that needs to be understood about both of those sites, and Aurora already has the power, and demonstrably the will, to check those risks if they were to materialize.

Rushing back to voters only fuels oil-industry claims that Colorado Rising and regulation proponents actually want to kill Colorado’s oil industry rather than better regulate it.

There’s dangerous folly in trying to accomplish critically needed goals in addressing climate change by cloaking such efforts in public-health regulation.

Sentinel Colorado and many newspapers across the nation are clamoring for meaningful changes to immediately address greenhouse gas emissions, stipulating that such changes will be neither easy nor cheap. We cannot balance the wellbeing of the planet and all who live on it with the need to preserve the petroleum industry — or any industry.

But efforts to reduce coal and petroleum production and consumption by regulating it out of existence undermines anti-petroleum activists’ valid concerns by wiping out their credibility.

It may well turn out that Colorado, or too many local governments, wrongly regulate oil-and-gas production in the state under the law created by SB 181. There could be a real and compelling need for Colorado Rising or another group to ask voters to correct a future wrong. But running back to voters with these proposed deficient retreads this fall will make potential future needs for ballot proposals much more difficult and probably impossible.

It’s just too soon.