For Anne Lee Foster, it’s all a matter of health.
“We are just asking for some really simple, basic protections for our homes, our schools, and our playgrounds,” says Foster, who is a volunteer and activist for Colorado Rising.
That group that has succeeded in getting on this fall’s ballot a question that would more than quadruple the distance between all new oil and gas well drilling and the nearest homes, schools, and hospitals.
Proposition 112, continues Foster, will protect neighborhoods through a minimum 2,500-foot zone from a “dangerous, explosive, and toxic industrial activity that is trying to come into our community.”
The current mandated distance is 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools, a difference between existing law and proposed law that Scott Prestidge says could prove devastating to the oil and gas industry in Colorado.
“This measure is basically a ban on our industry,” says Prestidge, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
In a press release, Dan Haley, the president and chief executive officer of the association, warns that the measure puts at risk “private property rights, more than 100,000 good-paying jobs, more than $1 billion in taxes for schools, parks and libraries, and our nation’s energy security.”
Opponents additionally predict that if passed, the measure would remove up to 85 percent of state land for new drilling activity.
The proposition has also met with strong opposition from the state’s building industry, leaders of which have argued that it would both hurt oilfield construction, as well as Colorado’s overall economy.
Such industry groups as the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, the Colorado Contractors Association, and the Associated General Contractors of Colorado have all gone on record against the measure.
What is being generally referred to as an “anti-fracking” move is mostly framed by two trend lines: the incidence of oil and gas well explosions and fires, and an unprecedented post-Great Recession boom in oil and gas development.
In undoubtedly the most well-known explosion, a homeowner and his brother-in-law were killed in the town of Firestone in April of 2017 after an odorless gas, from a retired underground pipeline connected to a well, seeped into the house.
The subsequent explosion of that pipeline led to the death of both men.
In that tragedy’s aftermath, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper ordered all gas and oil companies in the state to inspect and test every pipeline within 1,000 feet of any occupied building.
But the second factor animating Proposition 112 advocates is the unprecedented growth in Colorado of hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking, which has contributed to the production of around 450,000 barrels a day of crude, and a more than 70 percent increase this year in new drilling applications.
The multi-billion dollar business has also been producing record tax revenues for Colorado, forecast to top the $200 million mark this year.
Despite those numbers, and the obvious influence of the state’s oil and gas industry in the state, Colorado Rising organizers scored a signal victory this summer when they secured in excess of 172,000 petition signatures to get the drilling setback question put on this November’s ballot.
“The momentum is with us,” says Foster, who adds that Proposition 112 supporters have been canvassing in all parts of the state, including in counties where fracking is prevalent.
But opponents of the measure are also making themselves heard, in particular with campaign contributions that so far, according to the site Ballotpedia, are nearing the $18 million mark, compared to Colorado Rising’s $718,000.
Prestidge says that despite that very significant fund-raising advantage, the industry is not taking anything for granted.
“We’re working very hard on this,” he says of Proposition 112. “It’s going to take every bit of effort that we have, but we feel that once Coloradoans understand what this measure does, we’ll have a good chance to defeat it.”
The campaign for both sides is reaching into every corner of the state and galvanizing voters in a way usually only seen in presidential elections.
Disparate groups like the Colorado Sierra Club, the Denver Catholic Network, the Telluride Institute, and the Broomfield Moms Active Community have all come out in favor of the measure.
Those in the opposition camp includes Jared Polis, the Democrat nominee for governor, and Walker Stapleton, the Republican nominee, as well as current Governor Hickenlooper, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and the Colorado Association of Mineral and Royalty Owners.
While Foster acknowledges that the opposition is formidable, she is also predicting a historic victory in November.
“People are very concerned about the explosions, the toxic benzene exposure and the studies showing negative birth outcomes and respiratory disorders and cancers that are a part of living next to oil and gas activity,” she says.
“What they’re doing now is standing up and responding to a crisis that has come to their doorsteps,” Foster adds.
By Garry Boulard
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