Guest post: Proposition 112 — Colorado already has 50,000 oil wells. Give the environment a break.

Economic benefits of more drilling don't outweigh the adverse impacts on lifestyle

Oil rig outside of Erie is one of Colorado's 50,000 active drilling operations. (Photo by Phil Cherner)

It might be telling that on the same day former Governor Bill Ritter had a column in The Denver Post (Oct. 16), projecting “a huge hit” to Colorado’s economy if Proposition 112 passes and new oil-and-gas projects can’t be placed any closer than 2,500 feet to places where people live or work (as opposed to 500 feet now), there were two less prominent pieces on The Post’s business pages.

One said, “Colorado’s economy grew a robust 4.5 percent in the first quarter (of 2018), added 72,000 jobs in August and hasn’t seen so few jobless claims since 2000.” The other was about a new Forbes top ten list on economic opportunity: “Denver was No. 4… with $2.3 billion in three-year venture capital investment.”

Sounds to me like our economy can afford a hit if it has to.

And if Prop 112 passes, maybe it does. But even that’s questionable. Ritter’s reasoning is, if this new setback proposition becomes law, oil and gas producers will flee the state. True, some might, but do you know how big oil and gas already is in Colorado? According to the American Petroleum Institute, there are roughly 50,000 active wells in the state, which ultimately contribute more than $30 billion to Colorado’s economy.

Remember, Prop 112 would only create a bigger setback for new projects (and for the reactivation of previously abandoned ones); there’s nothing in the proposal that would force anyone to walk away from what they already have. Furthermore, although there will be bigger areas off-limits to exploration and drilling if Proposition 112 is approved — which means jobs on some potential new wells wouldn’t happen — there still will be big areas in which they can drill clear down to China if they want to. For that matter, more than a third of all the land in Colorado is owned by the federal government. These days, if President Trump has his way, federal land will be ripe for the drilling.

Coincidentally or not, on the same day as both the gloomy Ritter column and the two rosy business items were published, the front page of the paper carried a story titled “Prop 112: Dissecting the science behind the initiative.” It addressed both sides in the debate about the safety of wells.

For example, for the proposition’s supporters: “Backers of 112 say without bigger buffers, Coloradans will continue to be exposed to noxious emissions from well sites, like toluene, formaldehyde, xylene and cancer-causing benzene, to say nothing of the environmental harm from potent greenhouse gasses, like methane.” For its opponents: “The industry points to its use of pollution-reduction technology, like methane capture, leak detection cameras and remote monitoring equipment, for helping make drilling and fracking a cleaner process than it once was.”

Want the conclusive facts though? The jury isn’t in yet, not really. You don’t have to look very hard to find studies that support either point of view. Is it dangerous to live or work close to an oil or gas well and, if it is, how far away do you have to be to mitigate the danger? Read two different studies, you’ll get two different answers.

And there’s a wholly different but equally important piece of the debate: how close would you want an oil or gas well to your home? I know my own answer: half-a-mile wouldn’t be nearly enough. Not only because of the possibility of poisoning my soil and water (which some experts fear), but because of the prospect of heavy equipment, and annoying noise, and unsightly structures right out my back door.

There’s a parallel: plenty of Coloradans, because of its impact on lifestyle, hope Amazon won’t put its second headquarters here, economic impact notwithstanding. The principle behind Proposition 112 is the same.

Governor Ritter called its supporters “keep it in the ground” folks. That’s not fair. They’re “keep it farther from my home” folks. He might switch sides himself, if it came closer to his.

NOTE: The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact tips@coloradoindependent.com or visit our submission page.

9 COMMENTS

  1. If you look at the Facebook pages of the people who proposed 112, they are definitely “keep it in the ground” people.

    Vote No on 112

  2. The first electric powered auto (carriage) was patented around the same time as the internal combustion engine, in 1932-1939.

    Henry Ford, together with other ultra-wealthy individuals like JD Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, JP Morgan, and perhaps a few others, chose to promote the internal combustion engine as a way to further profit off gasoline sales, oil, and such.
    By collaborating, they could profit not only off oil, and the shipping thereof, but also off loans for purchasers of Ford’s new vehicles.

    Their power and wealth was too much for the competition, literally killing off further development of electric powered cars.

    Imagine a world today if instead of humans devoted to selfish greed we had humans devoted to reason, common sense, and good.
    Imagine if all the resources (time, money, etc.) invested in oil & gas had instead been invested in alternative energies.

    All of Nature around us relies on natural energies, not in need of “fossil” fuels (on an interesting side not, many “Eastern” Scientists don’t buy into the belief that oil & gas come from fossils – but that’s another story).

    Think of all the wars, political strife, backdoor deals, global turmoil, inequalities, deaths, etc. that have resulted from “fossil” fuels.

    It amazes me that hundreds of millions to billions of people have continued to allow themselves to be so highly influenced, and controlled, by a small number of people, like Ford, Rockefeller, Morgan, etc.

    With continued demand for “fossil” fuels, and a seeming necessity to merely act as mindless followers, people have no one to blame but themselves.

    • Yes. Conspiracy against the whole world. I’ll but it. Sell me more.

      I’m imagining a world where there are no IV bags or life saving medical devices, needles to deliver immunization shots, no fire trucks, ambulances, no microwave ovens, no paint, colored pencils or crayons, no computers, keyboards, no wires to deliver electricity… because there’s no oil, gas or mining… And I can see myself riding in a wooden wagon.

      No thanks.

  3. Sometimes people should not write an article unless they are a subject matter expert.

    This guy is a hack, a joke a person who has not read any EPA studies or any fracking data.

    Your correct the jury is out and if the verdict is guilty then pass tougher reforms.

    I don’t work in Oil or Gas and I’m an independent well informed voter who has not worked for two extinct newspapers.

    It is poor policy to put people out of jobs without facts because you have a “not in my backyard” syndrome.

    NY banned fracking with no sbience, update New York is great in the summer, move there.

  4. Someone needs to back off a bit. Plenty of “un-informed” but intelligent observations out there, even from “Mark.” 46000-odd active wells. 13000-odd inactive, 3000 or so with higher pressures at casing, and likely leaking. Always a volatile industry, O&G companies dominated 15 of 20 highest cost bankruptcies 2014-16. Once they pack and leave, who maintains those wells? The Dakotas have seen much more leaked oil than Deep Horizon. There should be wellhead lifecycle regulations and indemnity to cover reclamation costs. They shouldn’t be allowed to drill, extract, and walk away when time to pay piper. I’m just a contractor, no one promises me work, either.
    IMHO, of course.

    • Dude, you are just making stuff up? Or what?

      No life cycle regulations? Colorado Oil and Gas Commission has the strictest regulations in the United States! Look it up Man!

      Your comment is complete nonsense.

  5. I looked up Colorado Proposition 112 the text of which is given in the link. It does look like the wording could eliminate virtually all drilling in Colorado:
    “C. VULNERABLE AREAS” MEANS PLAYGROUNDS, PERMANENT SPORTS FIELDS, AMPHITHEATERS, PUBLIC PARKS, PUBLIC OPEN SPACE, PUBLIC AND COMMUNITY DRINKiNG WATER SOURCES, IRRIGATION CANALS, RESERVOIRS, LAKES, RIVERS, PERENNIAL OR INTERMITTENT STREAMS, AND CREEKS, AND ANY ADDITIONAL VULNERABLE AREAS DESIGNATED BY THE STATE OR A LOCAL GOVERNMENT.”

    The real bugaboo is the inclusion of perennial or intermittent streams. A drainage system is comprised of a lace-like network of intermittent streams down to spacing as low a few feet in some areas. There’s no way anyone can drill ½ mile from intermittent streams. Even in flat farmland, you can see an intermittent stream network from the air.

    If it just said ½ mile from houses and infrastructure, I would be okay with it, considering directional drilling can now reach out 1000’s of feet.

  6. I agree with Mark. It is indeed poor policy to put people out of jobs without facts because you have a “not in my backyard” syndrome.

  7. 2500 ft.
    Let’s just say this goes through. Doesn’t mean there wont be fracking. It just means you have to in place 2500 more ft of pipe. Sounds like there may be more jobs this way.
    How much safer is a school or a hospital when there may be lines running underneath regardless the distance from where it started?
    When the earth quakes started in Oklahoma, it shook our homes in Wichita Ks. That’s quite a bit farther than 2500 ft.
    Now I’m a resident in this great state of Colorado and I want to know why the hell we are even considering more fracking.
    I’ve lived in Kansas for 42 years. Not once have I ever felt an earthquake until this absurd practice started. Neither one of these proposals sound safe to me. It sounds more like a bid on a job to make billions for share holders. It all just depends on how much pipeline will need to be in place. That’s just my opinion.

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