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.
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