PRO | Proposition 112 is the only way around an uncooperative oil & gas industry
Author: Morgan Carroll - October 11, 2018 - Updated: October 10, 2018
Looking at the history of interactions between the oil and gas industry and our communities over the past several years, it’s abundantly clear why the people of Colorado are bringing Proposition 112 forth. Instead of adopting better health and safety standards to residents and workers, the oil and gas industry has rebuffed all prior reasonable legislative solutions and instead chosen to invest over $80 million dollars to undermine all citizen-led efforts that would allow communities to protect themselves from drilling operations that are destroying their neighborhoods.
You don’t have to look far to see real-life examples of the industry’s refusal to comply with even the slightest requests to improve health and safety regulations. Just last year, the oil and gas industry sued the city of Thornton after council members passed a local measure to establish a 750 foot buffer zone between all new oil and gas operations and homes. The measure, which was only a slight increase from the current state setback of 500 feet, was meant to provide relief to nearby residents from disruptive loud noises, blaring lights, nauseating fumes and health impacts resulting from nearby drilling operations.
We are also seeing drilling operations happening in parts of Aurora that are shockingly close to homes and schools. People are frustrated by the loss of property value, the loss of quality of life and fearful about the health and safety consequences for their kids. In the nearby city and county of Broomfield, county commissioners spent two years negotiating the terms of a drilling plan with Extraction Oil & Gas, only to have the company make drastic changes at the last minute.
Extraction’s proposal included several mega-well sites with plans to drill more than 150 wells in close proximity to homes and schools. Public hearings drew thousands of concerned community members who felt compelled to weigh in on the effects that a drilling plan of this magnitude would have on their neighborhoods. Just minutes before commissioners called for a vote on the proposal, and after more than four hours of public testimony from Broomfield citizens pleading for the plan to be rejected, Extraction’s CEO and attorney threatened to sue if the plan was not approved that night.
What is most alarming about this type of industry bullying is that they are also quick to dismiss legitimate concerns about health and safety. During negotiations, Broomfield County commissioners asked Extraction representatives for details about the cause of a massive explosion that took place in Windsor last December. The questions became all the more relevant upon knowing that the explosion took place at a drilling site that is almost identical to the plan proposed for Broomfield. Instead of explaining how they would prevent a similar disaster in an even more densely populated area, Extraction representatives, with a pound of their fist on the podium, refused to answer questions, and just walked out of the hearing.
Quite often, we see city councils and county commissioners trying to ensure that negotiations with the oil and gas industry include measures to protect health and safety. But as we see time and time again, the industry is quick to point out that local authority is preempted by the state, regardless of what the city, county, or community members want. As was the case in Thornton, in Broomfield, and in communities across Colorado that have tried to negotiate with an industry that is unwilling to compromise.
I have seen the power of the oil & gas lobby at the State Capitol firsthand. Representatives can be heard admitting that any bills regarding oil and gas don’t stand a chance of passing unless the industry approves. The industry’s power and influence over every level of our government is exactly why change has not, and will not, happen at the state level anytime soon. That’s why even the most common-sense bills — such as increasing setbacks for schools, holding the industry accountable for earthquake damage, and upholding the Martinez decision to prioritize health and safety — have failed.
In 2017, we witnessed over a dozen fires and explosions at oil and gas sites in Colorado in the eight months following the deadly home explosion in Colorado. Communities were left shaken, and many residents living nearby are still struggling with the decision to stay in their homes or move out. With proposals to drill hundreds of wells in suburban settings in dangerously close proximity to the places we live, work and our children play, there needs to be a solution for keeping our neighborhoods safe. Since the industry will not work with legislators or residents, that solution is Proposition 112.