Colorado anti-fracking initiatives hit signature target

August 8, 2016 6:37 PM EDT

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - Environmental groups in Colorado on Monday said they collected enough signatures to add proposed anti-fracking initiatives to a state ballot in November, as long as their petitions make it through a validation review by the Secretary of State's office.

One of the initiatives would strengthen the state's "setback" rules, requiring new oil and gas development facilities to be located at least 2,500 feet from occupied structures and areas of interest, such as parks. The second would transfer regulatory control of new oil and gas development to local governments.

Both needed 98,492 signatures to make the ballot.

"We made it over the hurdle of having the signatures needed to turn into the Secretary of State and now it's in their hands to go through the validation process," said Lisa Trope, an organizer with Food and Water Watch, one of the groups gathering the signatures.

The Secretary of State's office will review the petitions in the coming weeks to ensure no duplicate signatures or unregistered voters were included.

An issues committee for Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development led the signature gathering process. A spokeswoman for that organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The initiatives come after the state's Supreme Court earlier this year struck down fracking bans approved by voters in the cities of Fort Collins and Longmont.

The proposed initiatives have drawn strong opposition from oil and gas companies, which in recent months have donated millions of dollars to Protect Colorado, an industry-backed coalition leading the fight against the initiatives.

Energy companies Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Noble Energy Inc in the past month each increased their contributions to the group by $2.5 million, bringing their total donations to $6.55 million and $5 million, respectively, according to the latest campaign finance filing.

Karen Crummy, the communications director for Protect Colorado, was unable to comment on the signature validation process when contacted earlier.

Later the group released a statement that said: "We are confident that Coloradans will see these measures for what they are: a backdoor fracking ban that would be economically devastating for our state."

A study by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency charged with promoting energy development, found that 90 percent of the states' available surface acreage would be unavailable for oil and gas development under the proposed setback rules.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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