By ELIANNA CLAYTON
In just a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Coloradoans will turn in their ballots. However, before marking their votes and sealing their ballots, residents should have a clear understanding of the propositions on which they are voting.
Oftentimes propositions are more nuanced than they appear on the ballot. One such proposition is Proposition 112: Increased Setback Requirement for Oil and Natural Gas Development. While both the party candidates for governor, Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton, have vocalized their opposition to this measure, it is essential for each voter to understand the economic and social implications of this proposition.
In short, Proposition 112 requires that new oil and natural gas development be located at least 2,500 feet from occupied structures (such as schools, homes and office buildings), water sources, and areas designated as vulnerable. This type of requirement is termed “a setback.” The law currently requires a setback of 1,000 feet, so this proposition would more than double the required space. Oil and natural gas development, which includes exploratory drilling, production, and processing, has dramatically increased in recent years with new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling. While natural gas production has stabilized over the last 10 years in Colorado, oil production doubled between 2013 and 2017. In 2017, there were 54,000 active wells in Colorado, which marked a 48 percent increase from 2007. Consequently, Colorado has been ranked fifth in the country for natural gas production and seventh in the country for domestic oil production.
So, what does this mean? Those voting to pass Proposition 112 are concerned with the health and environmental problems that increase with oil and natural gas production. Because this new proposition would require that the setback be increased to 2,500 feet, people in occupied buildings would be at a lower risk for the negative health effects. This would also create greater transparency for property owners about the location of oil and gas developments in their communities, helping them make informed decisions.
Those against Proposition 112 point to economic impacts. Oil and natural gas companies, and their related industries, support many jobs in Colorado. Furthermore, these companies pay income, sales, and property taxes. This tax revenue is split between state governance and local programs, such as public school districts. Each year, the state severance collects up to 264.7 million from taxes; in 2017, oil and gas producers paid 496.7 million in property taxes alone to local governments. Other opponents of the proposition claim that it is not strict enough, given that the laws would not affect current oil and gas agents, only future ones, and that about 85 percent of the eligible land would apply for and receive special permission to be excused from the new setback.
Ultimately, the contention over Proposition 112 comes down to the potential for innovation. There is no doubt that the Colorado economy currently depends on oil and gas production. However, by placing financial and logistical burdens on these oil and gas industry companies, Coloradans may be able to create space for and encourage growth in innovative technologies that can produce similar monetary results, while protecting the health of our people and our environment.