Anti-fracking group proposes limiting Colorado oil and gas drilling

DENVER, Jan 7 (Reuters) - A Colorado environmental group on Tuesday launched a new campaign to tighten regulations on the state’s oil and gas industry, in a fresh push to curtail drilling in the fifth-largest oil-producing state amid concerns over its potential health and safety impacts.

The initiatives, proposed by Colorado Rising, include a steep increase in the insurance that oil companies are required to carry to cover abandoned wells and would widen the separation between new wells and public areas. To gain a place on the state’s November ballot, the initiatives will require around 125,000 voter signatures.

In 2018, voters struck down a setback initiative that would have required new oil and gas activity to occur at least 2,500 feet (762 meters) from schools and parks. A similar measure failed to make the ballot in 2016, and two years later, energy companies defeated the measure.

Colorado Rising said it was considering six initiatives - 2,000- to 2,500-foot setbacks, proposals that provide separation waivers on private land, and increasing the required insurance to $270,000 per well versus as little as $100,000 for multiple wells. It will decide later which proposal to offer.

Colorado has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, particularly because many wells are drilled near residential areas.

The state last year passed a law which allowed local governments a greater say in oil and gas development. Some counties have implemented temporary moratoriums on new drilling permits as result, but environmental groups say the law did not go far enough.

“We’ve been watching the legislative and rule-making process and found that the regulations that they’ve come up with have been insufficient and a lot of concessions have been granted to the oil and gas industry,” said Anne Lee Foster, spokeswoman for Colorado Rising.

Colorado’s Weld County, north of Denver, produced 133.7 million barrels of oil last year, according to state data.

Late last year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published a study that said benzene and other chemicals used in oil and gas development could cause negative health impacts to people as far as 2,000 feet away. The study called for additional research. (Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Bernadette Baum)