Shutterstock / Jeff Zehnder

Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates from both parties went on the record about where they stand on oil and gas development in the state during a forum hosted by the Colorado Association for Commerce and Industry this week.

All but one of the candidates came out against a proposed ballot initiative by anti-fossil fuel group Colorado Rising for a 2,500 foot setback for oil and gas production.

The notable exception was current Congressman and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis.  Polis ducked the question and generalized about his stance on oil and gas development which emphasized “health and safety” as the ”first and primary consideration.”  Polis reiterated his goal of achieving 100 percent renewables by 2040 and stated he wants to make sure renewables can compete “on a level playing field.”

Current Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said that a 2,500 foot setback was a non-starter. “I think it is unrealistic, I think it would shut down between 90 and potentially 100 percent of the oil and gas production in the state and to me it is an absolute non-starter,” Coffman said.

Coffman derided the increase in ballot initiatives emerging, placing some blame on Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration.

Colorado Attorney General’s Office

“We are back to the battle of ballot initiatives.  It’s because we haven’t had a strong voice and strong leadership at the top of state government on this issue.  But instead we try to please everyone,” Coffman said.

A 2016 report from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found that a 2,500 foot setback would mean more than 95 percent of the surface area in Colorado’s top oil and gas producing counties would be off limits.

Democratic Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne responded by saying the fact that no one is “pleased” is a sign that the current administration has successfully considered both sides when invoking policy.

“I think one measure of the current administration’s success, and I consider myself obviously a part of that, is that probably no one is pleased, despite what the attorney general said, and I think that’s a measure of success, because it is a really complicated issue. We have to thread the needle,” Lynne said.

Lynne also differed from Coffman on the question of the ‘Martinez case,’ which Coffman in her capacity as attorney general appealed, stating, “I stand with the governor on this one.”

Lt. Governor Donna Lynne,

Western Wire has tracked Colorado’s so-called Martinez lawsuit, launched in 2013 by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez along with other teenagers as part of a multi-state effort to bring “children’s” lawsuits by Our Children’s Trust. A review of funding documents has revealed the lawsuits are funded by deep-pocketed anti-fossil fuel philanthropic foundations, like the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

In a 2-1 decision in March 2017 a three-judge panel at the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must consider how drilling may “adversely impact human health” or “contribute to climate change” before it can issue a drilling permit to an operator. Last May, Republican Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, over Hickenlooper’s objections, asked the Colorado Supreme Court to review the case, siding with COGCC’s unanimous decision to appeal.

Polis has endorsed the Court of Appeals’ decision in the Martinez case, and told supporters earlier this month he would sign a bill to regulating oil and gas permitting in the same manner if he were to be elected. State Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) has introduced a bill to “codify” the decision in this year’s legislative session.

Former Democratic State Senator Mike Johnston advocated for state-level frameworks for extraction as opposed to locally controlled initiatives.  Johnston mentioned the importance of upholding constitutional rights of land ownership and did not support the 2,500 foot setback.

“I believe we ought to have one state-wide set of frameworks for extraction, I think there’s a lot of focus on public safety and health but I want to make sure that technology advancements that are happening in the industry right now are going to make that possible,” Johnston said.

Johnston has also called for transitioning to 100 percent renewables.

Most of the candidates talked about balance between the needs of operators and the communities in which they operate.

Current Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton said cities who have banned fracking on the local level have violated state policy and create indecision that hurts Colorado’s economy.

“We need a governor who is going to work cooperatively with the industry to responsibly develop our energy resources,” Stapleton added.

The largely positive support each candidate displayed for the energy industry was welcome news for Colorado Petroleum Association Executive Director Angie Binder.

“It’s good to hear that the candidates running to be governor of our state understand and acknowledge the importance of the oil and gas industry to the entire state and the damaging economic consequences of over-reaching policies,” Binder told Western Wire.

“It was great to hear that the gubernatorial candidates universally oppose the idea of expanding development setbacks to 2,500 feet, which is nearly half a mile. Extreme activists who want nothing more than to ban our industry from providing locally produced energy are once again trying to push this setback issue at the ballot. It comes with great relief that our governor’s race candidates seem to understand the absurdity of that effort,” said Dan Haley, President of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.