AP NEWS

A Tale of Two Counties: Weld, Boulder Commissioners Disagree About Oil and Gas Setbacks Ballot Initiative

September 18, 2018

A fracking site near the Colliers Hill neighborhood in Erie.

Residents of neighboring Colorado counties have received sharply differing advice from their county commissioners about how to vote on Proposition 112, a state ballot initiative that, if approved by voters in November, would increase the distance future oil and gas development must be set back from homes, schools and hospitals.

On Monday, Weld County commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a resolution opposing the measure, calling it “a one-size-fits all, blunt instrument that would create a de facto ban on oil and gas production, even in communities that embrace responsible energy development ...”

Boulder County commissioners in June took the opposite stance on the issue and announced support of the proposal to require new oil and gas development be set back at least 2,500 feet from all occupied structures, such as homes and schools, and any other areas designated for additional protection, such as playgrounds and drinking water sources.

Steve Moreno, chairman of Weld’s all-Republican Board of County Commissioners, in a Monday news release stated, “This isn’t a partisan issue. At the end of the day, the people of Colorado all want the same thing — to protect our quality of life, our land, our air and our water — but shutting down the industry isn’t the answer.”

The three Boulder County commissioners, all Democrats, in their June news release stated the 2,500-foot buffer zone would mitigate the adverse effects of oil and gas development on public health, safety and the environment.

“This initiative, if approved by voters in the fall, would be an important step in providing greater protection for those living, attending school, or obtaining drinking water within a half-mile of fracking sites, a distance which has been shown by peer-reviewed scientific studies to have increased risks and direct detrimental impacts to human health,” Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones stated.

Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner stated, “We need to take every opportunity to move these heavy industrial facilities away from vulnerable populations across the state. A setback of at least 2,500 feet would provide a more protective minimum buffer area for Colorado residents.”

However, Weld County Commissioner Julie Cozad in a Monday statement said “there is no scientific basis for the 2,500-foot number. It is a random number meant to ban oil and gas.”

Weld Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer called Proposition 112 “reckless and unnecessary. We have worked diligently in this county to ensure responsible energy development.”

The Weld commissioners’ resolution states that “Colorado is widely recognized as a national leader in developing health, safety and environmental protections.”

Weld’s resolution also focuses on what commissioners said is the importance of oil and gas development and its workers to Colorado’s economy and to local and state tax revenues.

“The loss of Colorado’s energy sector would devastate the state economy, cripple state and local budgets, and threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of working families,” the Weld commissioners’ resolution states.

Boulder County commissioners in their June news release, focused on potential harm, stating, “Fracking operations have numerous negative impacts on adjacent properties including noise, light pollution, vibrations and odor. In addition, nearby residents have reported increases in eye, nose and throat symptoms, along with mild to severe asthma exacerbations.”

Boulder County commissioners at the time — when backers of the initiative were still circulating petitions to get enough signatures to advance it to the ballot — said, “since the flowline-related explosion last year that killed two men and injured one woman in their Firestone home, Colorado has experienced at least a dozen reported fires and explosions at oil and gas sites resulting in death or serious injuries.

“Not only are chemical releases, fires and explosions an issue, but just last year in Colorado there were 619 reported spills, including 93,000 gallons of oil into soil, groundwater and streams, and 506,000 gallons of produced water spilled. These increased setbacks would further remove neighborhoods, schools, and medical facilities from contaminated areas.”

Weld commissioners’ Monday resolution argues passage of “anti-oil and gas proposals” would “dramatically increase the cost of doing business in the state of Colorado, creating a hostile business climate that scares away investment from all sectors of our economy.”

Weld commissioners’ staff in the county’s news release reported that “hundreds of energy industry employees” showed up at Monday’s board meeting to support the resolution opposing Proposition 112.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

AP RADIO
Update hourly