COGCC outlines impacts if voters approve proposed mandatory setback

Ninety percent of Colorado’s surface acreage would be off-limits to future oil and gas development or hydraulic fracturing under a November ballot initiative that would establish a minimum 2,500 ft mandatory setback from any “occupied structure” or “area of special concern,” the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation said in a May 27 report.

“In the top 5 producing counties, 95% of the surface area would be within mandatory setback zones and unavailable for new oil and gas development or [fracing] operations,” the 20-page COGCC staff analysis said. “The ballot initiative language does not provide any exceptions to or possibility of variance from the mandatory 2,500 ft setback distance.”

In Colorado’s top five producing counties—Weld, Garfield, La Plata, Rio Blanco, and Las Animas—more than 10.1 million acres would be off-limits, the report said. “Eighty-five percent of surface acreage in Weld County—the state’s largest oil and gas producing county—would be unavailable for new oil and gas development facilities or [fracing] operations,” it noted.

“This report and map from the state is the smoking gun that antioil and gas activists have been trying to hide,” Colorado Oil & Gas Association Pres. Dan Haley said in response to the report’s release. “It clearly shows that activists aren’t trying to protect neighborhoods or homeowners, but are simply pushing an extreme agenda to end an industry that 5 million Coloradans rely on every day. Any reasonable person can look at this map and see they’re advocating for a statewide ban.”

Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley agreed. “The COGCC maps prove this setback proposal is short-sighted and reckless,” she said in a separate May 27 statement. “Robust regulations exist in the state for oil and gas development and to ensure environmental protection.”

Current statewide setback regulations were created in 2013 through a COGCC-led stakeholder process consisting of meetings over several months, and allow for responsible development of oil and gas to exist at least 500 ft from homes and buildings, Bentley noted. “Proposals like this seek to disregard the well thought out stakeholder process that Colorado is known for,” she said. “Interfering with this effective system would undermine a crucial source of income for both the state GDP and individual families.”

What proposal would do

The proposal, Initiative 78, would add a 30th article to the state constitution requiring that any new oil and gas development facilities, including reentry into a previously abandoned well, would have to be at least 2,500 ft from an occupied structure or area of special concern.

It is one of four, for which signatures are being collected through Aug. 3 for inclusion on the November ballot, which would affect oil and gas operations in the state, COGCC Director Matt Lepore said at an Apr. 18 hearing.

Initiative 78 defines occupied structure as “any building or structure that requires a certificate of occupancy, or building or structure intended for human occupancy, including homes, schools, and hospitals.”

An area of special concern would include “public and community drinking water sources, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, creeks, irrigation canals, riparian areas, playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, and public open space.”

Additional authority

Section 4 of the proposal would give the state and local governments authority to establish larger setbacks. “In the event that two or more local governments with jurisdiction over the same geographic area establish different setback distances, the larger setback shall govern,” it says.

Of the initiative’s two featured categories, areas of special concern would have the bigger impact, the COGCC report said. A 2,500-ft setback in that category would put 89% of surface land in the state off-limits to oil and gas development, while the calculated estimate for occupied structures is 22%, it indicated. “In Weld County, the proposed setback requirement from an ‘Occupied Structure’ [would] potentially make more than 40% of the land unavailable,” it added.

“In those areas defined as off-limits to drilling, which is a vast majority of the state with oil and gas resources, lie the property rights of tens of thousands of Coloradans,” Haley said. “Those constitutionally protected mineral rights would be shredded by this initiative and would prompt thousands of lawsuits against the State of Colorado for billions of dollars.

“It’s just another reason why land use regulations do not belong in the state constitution and why we need to reject these extreme measures that are trying to solve issues that are best left to robust discussions in town halls, city councils and statehouse committee rooms,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at

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