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Anti-Fracking Effort Crumbles After Colorado Supreme Court Rejects Online Signature Gathering

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The final twist in 2020’s anti-fracking campaign came on Wednesday after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that signatures for ballot measures couldn’t be collected online, dealing a fatal blow to a prominent “Keep It In The Ground” group’s effort to effectively ban responsible energy development in the state.

At the beginning of the year, activist Colorado Rising introduced a set of six proposed ballot initiatives that included a 2,500-foot setback of oil and natural gas operations from homes, schools, other occupied structures, and waterways. It was a near identical version of their 2018 ballot measure that was rejected by voters.

But as COVID-19 struck, social distancing precautions made it very difficult to collect enough signatures to qualify these measures for the ballot. This prompted Colorado Rising Executive Director Joe Salazar to call off the campaign last month.

However, that decision didn’t sit well with two other top officials with Colorado Rising who officially controlled the ballot initiatives. Annie Lee Foster and Suzanne Spiegel then left the group to start their own effort with the help of another activist group, 350 Colorado Action, and began collecting signatures electronically through a new online system that Gov. Jared Polis had authorized because of COVID-19.

That was until the Colorado State Supreme Court ruled that Polis’ online system violated the constitution. The court ruled:

“The Colorado constitution requires that ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. That requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, even during a pandemic.”

The ruling was the death knell for Safe & Healthy Colorado, which would be forced to collect the 124,000 needed signatures by August 3 in-person – a near Herculean task.

Realizing the hill was too steep, the group called of their campaign. The Denver Business Journal reported:

“Anti-fracking activists trying to get a 2,500-foot oil well setback requirement on November ballots in Colorado suspended their campaign Wednesday after the state supreme court rejected gathering petition signatures electronically. Safe & Healthy Colorado, which organized to petition Initiative 174 onto ballots, said the Colorado Supreme Court ruling left them no safe way to proceed given organizers were relying on online signature-gathering efforts due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.”

In response to the news, Lynn Granger, Executive Director of API Colorado, said:

“Yesterday was a win for all Coloradans. The Supreme Court made a strong, unified decision that affirms and protects the law as written in the state Constitution. The subsequent announcement from Safe and Healthy Colorado is similarly welcome news, as the state will now avoid a costly election battle that the people of Colorado neither wanted nor needed in these challenging times. We look forward to continuing our work with state regulators, lawmakers and stakeholders in creating an energy future that works for Colorado.”

Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said:

“After submitting empty petition boxes in 2016 and interstate railcar petitions in 2018, virtual petitions in 2020 was simply a bridge too far. Some things are best done in-person, and our state’s signature collection process is one of them. We’re facing uncertain times, Colorado families are struggling and we’re desperate for a way to unify our communities and our state. Hopefully with this latest divisive petition behind us, we can look forward with hope and getting our state moving again.”

It’s the latest blow for Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado Action, and other activist groups who have seen their anti-energy efforts rejected time after time the past few years, and good news for responsible oil and natural gas development in Colorado.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 3, 2020

"After submitting empty petition boxes in 2016 and interstate railcar petitions in 2018, virtual petitions in 2020 was simply a bridge too far. Some things are best done in-person..."

Like voting, perhaps?

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