DENVER — The future of oil and gas development in our state is on the line, and it will be up to voters to decide its fate this November.
Proposition 112, formally Initiative 97, would force new drill rigs father away from backyards and schools.
Environmental groups argue the ballot measure would protect the health and safety of communities, while industry insiders maintain the setbacks would cost the state jobs and revenue.
But what’s true and what’s overhyped?
If passed, Prop 112 would require new oil and gas development to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and “vulnerable” areas like parks and creeks.
Analysis from state regulators said about 85 percent of the state’s non-federal land would be off-limits to new development if Prop 112 passes and could cost the state millions in tax money paid by the industry.
A “no” vote would keep the regulations the same, which means new wells would have to be 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
What sparked the ballot measure?
The measure was born through a grassroots effort. People living in Erie, Broomfield, Boulder and other northeastern Colorado towns grew frustrated with increased drilling and what they see as lax regulations.
Anne Lee Foster with Colorado Rising, the group behind the measure, sees the setbacks as common sense buffer zones between fracking and communities.
“We are protecting homes, schools, playgrounds and water sources from industrial oil and gas development,” Foster said.
Supporters also point to mega well pads, like one located near Bella Romero Elementary School in Greely. They argue it’s a clear example that the state agency in charge of regulating the industry is not doing a good job.
“Being this close to a site you’re breathing in volatile organic compounds like benzene, which is known to be cancer causing,” Foster said.
Foster is citing an April 2018 study led by the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus that shows people living near oil and gas facilities may be exposed to hazardous air pollutants, including carcinogens like benzene. However, the study acknowledged substantial uncertainties and the need for more research.
Opponents believe this is not about health and safety. From their perspective, Prop 112 is a job killer that would result in a ban on oil and gas in the state and have devastating impacts on Colorado’s economy.
“It would put up to 147,000 people out of work over the next 11 years, 43,000 people out of work next year and 77 percent of those jobs are not even in our industry,” said Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Haley said the numbers he cites are from an independent study done by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable. The study also claims Colorado will lose $230 million in state and local tax revenue.
The group behind the measure, however, believes the impact would be far less.
They stressed that more than 50,000 existing oil and gas sites can still operate under the measure — meaning jobs would still be needed to run these sites. Supporters also point out to a Department of Energy study showing there are only 23,000 oil and gas jobs in Colorado, not 147,000.
The industry is spending big money to go to battle against the measure, inundating the airwaves with ads. A political group called Protect Colorado has already raised more than $30 million.
At the same time, Prop 112 supporters don’t have near that much. They’ve raised just over $700,000 to get their message out.
With a lot at stake, the side with the most money could mark a turning point in the fight over drilling along the Front Range.
To help bring the conversation on one of the most polarizing and explosive debates in recent memory to center, Denver7 brought two landowners, an activist, a labor union organizer, an oil and gas entrepreneur and a professor to weigh the proposal -- and the response -- in an exclusive Table7 round table discussion. To view the whole segment, click here.