Proposition 112 on Oil & Gas Setbacks

In Part 1 of this two-part debate on Proposition 112, a measure to increase the distance new oil and gas wells are setback from homes, schools, etc., to a minimum of 2,500 feet, the proponents and opponents debate the impacts if the measure were to pass. Arguing for the Proposition are Anne Lee Foster, full-time campaign manager, Heidi Henkel, campaign volunteer, and Colorado State Representative Joe Salazar. Opposing the measure are Tracee Bentley, Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, Chip Rimer, Senior Vice President of Noble Energy, and Craig Rasmuson, Vice President of Community Relations at SRC Energy.

The debate analyzes why a distance of 2,500 feet was chosen as an appropriate setback distance. Proponents explain it is the minimum distance typically set by emergency personnel for evacuation zones. Opponents asserted this large of a setback distance would prevent almost all future oil and gas production on non-Federal lands in Colorado. There was disagreement regarding how the measure would affect current wells in terms of recompletions, fracturing new production zones for existing wells, and other operations.

Proponents of the measure stated revenues from and activities related to the 55,000 active wells in Colorado would not be affected because new permitting under their proposal would not be required by any maintenance work or even expansion efforts while opponents argued the language of the measure would severely limit any kind of new activity for new or even existing wells. Oil and gas opponents explained issues they have with what they felt was the broad and ambiguous language of the proposal that would prevent the development of wells near sites which did not have any environmental value such as dry creek beds.

The proponents of the measure focused on studies which concluded there were significant negative health consequences for people who lived near well sites. Opponents of the measure countered that most studies were preliminary in nature or biased in such a manner that the results were suspect. Opponents also emphasized their perspective that lifelong industry workers historically have not shown any signs of health impacts from their work producing oil and gas resources.

In Part 2 of this two-part debate on Proposition 112, a measure to increase the distance new oil and gas wells are setback from homes, schools, etc., to a minimum of 2,500 feet, episode begins with a scientific look at the impacts of oil and gas production in Colorado. Claims of poor air quality ratings by the American Heart Association and the many implications of the McKinsey studies from the University of Colorado concluding there were serious poor health consequences due to oil and gas production are vigorously contested by the opponents of the measure. Bentley describes the industry’s work to reduce the escape of emissions and its ongoing interest in becoming more efficient in this manner. There is reference to the new restrictions on methane emissions created as a result of collaboration by industry members (such as Noble Energy and Anadarko), environmental participants (the Environmental Defense Fund), Governor John Hickenlooper and government regulatory representatives.

The estimated negative economic impacts of the measure are of the utmost concern for Bentley, Rimer and Rasmuson. They describe dire consequences of as many as 150,000 possible lost jobs in Colorado, not only in the industry (which accounts for a total of approximately 25,000 jobs --- or less than 1% --- out of a total labor force of 3.1 million workers). Opponents of the measure posited that lost tax revenues from reduced oil & gas production would severely affect the ability of government entities --- from the State to counties, municipalities, and school districts to pay for critical services such as teachers, streets and roads, and emergency services.

Also examined were the sources of funding for both sides of the campaign. The opponents argue the measure is funded primarily by outside interests while the proponents countered by saying the opponents’ war chest of tens of millions of dollars dwarfed any resources they had themselves. Opponents argued the proposal was an effort to create a model that, if successful, could be used across the country to stop oil & gas activities.


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