Fracking showdown heats up in Colorado

VOTERS IN COLORADO NEXT month will weigh in on what’s shaping up to be the environmental showdown of the 2018 election cycle: whether to approve larger setbacks for oil as well as gas facilities that will would certainly make most of the state off limits to brand new fracking operations.

The measure can be one of a handful of environmental questions on state ballots This kind of year, through a brand new carbon fee in Washington to higher renewable energy standards in Arizona as well as Nevada. yet the Colorado proposal can be the one that will most directly pits residents against the oil as well as gas industry, potentially roping off 85 percent of non-federal land in Colorado through brand new drilling operations.

that will reflects a fundamental clash between an industry that will’s transformed Colorado into a top-10 oil producer inside U.S. as well as a booming residential population whose homes, schools as well as hospitals have crept ever closer to oil as well as gas sites.

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“Industry can be hitting saturation point, as well as people are saying, ‘This kind of can be not bad, yet why are you putting This kind of next to a school?” says Jim Alexee, director of the Colorado Sierra Club. “People are just getting fed up as well as are genuinely concerned. So oil as well as gas includes a right to be worried.”

If approved, the measure would certainly mark once inside U.S. that will voters – not a legislature or governor – green-light statewide curbs on fracking operations, which use mixtures of water, chemicals as well as some other materials to extract oil as well as gas through porous shale rock formations.

The blow to the oil as well as gas sector, meanwhile, would certainly be considerable, threatening – or promising, depending on one’s view – to galvanize similar grassroots efforts across the U.S. Three states inside U.S. have banned fracking: brand new York as well as Vermont did so in 2012, as well as Maryland followed suit last year.

The Colorado referendum, Proposition 112, would certainly require brand new wells be at least 2,500 feet through occupied buildings such as houses as well as schools, as well as parks, fresh water sources as well as some other green spaces “designated for additional protection.” that will would certainly also grant state as well as local governments brand new powers to set yet more stringent setback requirements.

Oil as well as gas sites are presently required to be at least 500 feet through residential buildings as well as 1,000 feet through high-occupancy buildings such as schools as well as hospitals. Those setbacks, however, were only instituted in 2013 – meaning Colorado residents may live as close as 150 feet to a well, compressor station, or some other oil as well as gas site.

The potential consequences of such proximity were underscored last year in Firestone, about 30 miles north of Denver, when a home located 178 feet through a well exploded, killing two people, after gas seeped through a leaking pipeline.

“The public has grown tired of that will: ‘Hey, I just bought This kind of $750,000 house, as well as right now there’s fracking next to that will,'” Alexee, of the Colorado Sierra Club, says. “They’re thinking about the health impacts. as well as they’re just pissed that will This kind of can be happening in their backyards.”

If approved, about 54 percent of the total land surface in Colorado would certainly become off-limits to drilling as well as about 85 percent of non-federal land, according to a state analysis published in July.

The measure represents the third time in four years that will Colorado has considered expanding the setbacks for oil as well as gas firms. A campaign for similar measures in 2014 was halted at the last minute as environmental advocates as well as oil as well as gas groups reached a compromise. A subsequent attempt in 2016 fell short of the signatures needed to put the question on the ballot.

The odds of passage are long again This kind of year: Energy firms have outspent the referendum’s supporters by more than 3:1, as well as top politicians in both parties – including the Democratic as well as Republican candidates for governor – have said they oppose the measure. yet according to a poll reportedly commissioned by oil as well as gas firms, the referendum was recently anticipated to pass with as much as 60 percent support.

“There’s just an immediate statement being made here by voters in November about whether they want fracking to be happening right right now in their backyards in their state,” says Julian Noisecat, a policy analyst with 350 Action, the political arm of environmental advocacy group 350, as well as which has donated more than $20,000 in support of the referendum.

Colorado Rising, a local environmental advocacy group that will collected 171,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, as well as some other supporters of the referendum argue that will the larger setbacks are about protecting public health, not hogtying the oil as well as gas industry.

“I moved to Colorado a few years ago with the expectation that will I was going to be moving to This kind of pristine environment, with crystal-blue air as well as This kind of emphasis on outdoor recreation as well as health as well as wellness, as well as I arrived as well as realized there are 50,000 active wells,” says Anne Lee Foster, a volunteer with Colorado Rising.

Cities along the Front Range, which includes Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs as well as some other destinations known for their proximity to hiking, biking, fishing, skiing as well as similar activities, have earned grades of D as well as F inside American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report. Much of the pollution has apparently come through oil as well as gas operations.

A study published in April inside journal Environmental Science as well as Technology found that will Colorado residents who live within 500 feet of an oil as well as gas site “are more likely to experience neurological, hematological as well as developmental health effects,” as well as those living as far as 2,000 feet face elevated cancer risks.

The findings corroborated studies in Pennsylvania as well as Texas that will found correlations between proximity to oil as well as gas wells as well as a host of health impacts, including fetal death, low birthweight preterm birth, asthma, fatigue, migraines as well as chronic sinus inflammation.

“The citizens of Colorado decided to take the power into their own hands as well as write their legislation to protect their own communities through This kind of ever-present danger,” Foster says. “that will’s a collision of a dense population as well as an industry that will feels that will they answer to no one.”

Oil as well as gas groups, however, contend that will the referendum has little to do with public health as well as instead can be simply a campaign to hamper the fossil fuel industry. For example Energy in Depth, which was launched in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of America as well as regularly rebuts studies on fracking, in a post in April pointed to a statement through Colorado’s chief medical officer as well as director of the Colorado Department of Public Health as well as Environment who cautioned against misinterpreting correlation as causation.

Protect Colorado, an industry-backed organization that will has mobilized against the referendum, has attributed the campaign to “anti-energy groups” determined to push “an extreme ballot measure.”

“The intent of the measure was never to protect the health as well as safety of the public. The intent of the measure can be to ban oil as well as natural gas development inside state,” spokeswoman Karen Crummy says. “that will’s not like they were saying, ‘Can we add an extra 100 feet?’ I don’t know that will that will would certainly do anything anyway – the Department of Public Health as well as Safety has said that will wouldn’t – yet they went for the most extreme initiative that will they could.”

The organization contends that will the referendum “would certainly have a devastating effect on our economy,” Crummy says. An analysis by the Commonsense Policy Roundtable, a self-described free-enterprise think tank, concluded that will the referendum would certainly lead to a loss of 147,000 jobs by 2030, most only indirectly connected to oil as well as gas. (Three of the group’s board members have ties to the oil as well as gas industry.)

Protect Colorado This kind of year has raised more than $26 million, as well as that will’s on track to take in close to $30 million – roughly twice the national budget of 350 Action. Last month alone, that will collected some $8 million as well as spent nearly $5 million. Meanwhile, Colorado Rising has raised about $630,000.

“This kind of can be not the only major ballot measure: We also have a House to win as well as some other major races that will are going on that will have major climate as well as environmental impacts,” Noisecat, of 350 Action, says. “yet This kind of can be one of the big ballot measures that will are happening This kind of election season.”

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