Editorial: Competing oil, gas measures take state down the wrong road

Colorado’s economic future once again sits in the hands of the voters, who will largely determine whether a $31 billion industry continues to add wealth to the state’s economy.

Initiative 97, which likely will appear before voters Nov. 6, would impose 2,500-foot setbacks around wells, halting most energy development in the state by removing 80 percent of non-federal land from drilling.

Supporters of the measure have submitted thousands of petition signatures, and the initiative is awaiting certification by the Colorado Secretary of State.

If certified, Initiative 97 should be defeated, as should Initiative 108, an opposing measure that would allow private-property owners to sue governments that implement policies diminishing the value of mineral and property rights.

Both measures go too far.

Congressman Jared Polis, the Democratic nominee for governor, and state treasurer Walker Stapleton, his Republican opponent, both oppose the measure. Polis’ opposition marks an about-face for the candidate, who supported a similar measure — though with 2,000-foot setbacks — in 2014.

But Polis’ shift to the center on the issue reflects an increasing recognition of the importance of the oil-and-gas industry in the state. That should help reassure voters in Weld County, which accounts for almost 90 percent of the state’s oil production and about one-third of its natural-gas production.

Providing local governments with some greater say on oil-and-gas drilling makes sense, but it must be done in a way that preserves the ability of mineral-rights holders to realize the value of those holdings. (The Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners in June released a study that estimated the value of untapped oil and gas reserves at $179 billion in the Wattenberg Field alone.)

State and local measures that promote safety must be increased to prevent accidents and leaks, and local governments should be able to implement rules to mitigate noise, dust and other negative effects.

While Initiative 97 deserves defeat, so does Initiative 108, which would expose the state government — as well as all local governments — to frivolous and expensive lawsuits for reducing the “fair market value” of private property. The measure would represent a windfall for lawyers, and its effect would extend far beyond the oil-and-gas sector.

One day, perhaps, Colorado will achieve a happy medium regarding energy development. Defeating ill-considered measures on both sides would help achieve that goal.