Colorado voters reject expanded oil and gas restrictions as Prop 112 fails

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - UPDATE 11/6/18:
According to 11 News Partner CBS Denver Proposition 112, the initiative requiring greater oil and gas setbacks for new development projects, has been rejected by Colorado voters.

It was rejected by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent.

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ORIGINAL STORY:
A choice left to Colorado voters which could change the landscape of oil and gas in the state is almost here.

Here’s how you’ll hear Proposition 112 described by its supporters.

“It’s a last-ditch effort for Coloradans to protect their communities and neighborhoods from an ever-encroaching industry that has run rough-shot over our communities,” stated Colorado Rising Volunteer Anne Lee Foster.

This is how its opponents classify the proposition.

“Prop 112 has nothing to do with safety, it’s essentially a ban on oil and gas in Colorado,” Urban Solution Group CEO Heidi Gill said.

Here’s what Proposition 112 would do: push new oil and gas production back from 500 feet for homes, 1,000 feet from schools, and hospitals to 2,500 feet, limiting how close those sites can be built.

The opposition says this move is overkill, roughly five times the current regulation, which has been approved by state regulators like the USEPA, Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as a safe distance.

Agents against the proposition say it will prohibit them from building on 85 percent of state and private land in Colorado, leaving the oil and gas industry with nowhere left to grow, or even survive.

They claim this is more about killing oil and gas in the state by blocking any spot the industry would try to build on, and less about safety.

“There is no data at all from any public health agency that 2,500 feet has any kind of factual basis at all in terms of health and safety,” said Vital for Colorado’s Simon Lomax. “It’s a political number, not a health and safety number.”

Supporters say there is no language whatsoever about a ban, and this is just about protecting citizens from an encroaching industry that poisons people close by.

They also have deep concerns about any slip-ups the industry could make, like the fatal Firestone natural gas explosion north of Denver in 2017 that killed two people.

“This is just a common sense protection to keep this industrial toxic activity away from our neighborhoods and protect our community,” Foster said.

Similar political moves to push back the distance on production have tried and failed in the state capitol with Gov. Hickenlooper, along with governor candidates Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis saying they do not support the proposition.

Supporters claim Polis, who has spent much of his campaign focusing on green energy initiatives and pro-environmental policy, is choosing not to back their proposition based on money ties.

“I think more importantly that the endorsements of the over 172,000 people who are not influenced by corporate interests and signed the petition wanting to be able to vote on safer setbacks are much more important to us,” Foster said.

Critics of the proposition say this could could kill 43,000 jobs in the first year and up to almost 150,000 by 2030, most of which will not be in the energy sector. This data comes from a bipartisan pro-business research council research council.

“Prop 112 is a scary proposition to us,” Springs Fabrication CEO Tom Neppl admits. "The thought of restricting drilling to the point where it leaves the state really makes us concerned. We would most likely need to lay off a significant number of people.”

His 120 Colorado Springs employees construct multiple projects for oil and gas companies. He said he’s got a backlog of projects right now, but if Prop 112 goes through, that work will dry up, leaving him with tough choices with his workforce.

“You look at that industry, it touches every other industry out there,” Neppl said.

Meanwhile, the supporting side says the industry is touching a lot more than business, it’s touching neighborhoods in a negative way.

“It’s about protecting Colorado’s long-term quality of life. The oil and gas industry is increasingly becoming large-scale industrial sites that are being literally sited in people’s backyard,” Foster said.

Colorado Rising, the organization that brought the proposition up to voters says a Colorado School of Public Health study shows the risk of cancer is raised greatly, along with low birth weights and repertory disorders.

A Colorado Department of Public Health report shows the risk of health defects for people living 500 feet or farther away from oil and gas production is actually low but needs more testing.

Ballots will go out to Colorado voters on Oct. 15th.