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Final Push to Collect Signatures for Oil and Gas Setbacks

The oil and gas industry is the only one in Colorado where local zoning rules for industrial development do not apply. (Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont)
The oil and gas industry is the only one in Colorado where local zoning rules for industrial development do not apply. (Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont)
July 16, 2018

DENVER – Volunteers have three weeks to collect enough signatures to put an initiative onto November's ballot that would push new oil and gas development further away from homes, schools and waterways.

Anne Lee Foster, a volunteer organizer with the group Colorado Rising, points to a Colorado-based health study that found the most significant impacts from living close to oil and gas operations happen within a half-mile radius, slightly more than the 2,500-buffer proposed in the measure.

"We've had 16 other explosions since the Firestone incident just last year,” she points out. “And there's just a litany of health studies showing that oil and gas development near communities is extremely detrimental to human health."

Foster adds that 2,500 feet also is the evacuation radius set by first responders when things go wrong at well sites.

Colorado currently allows companies to drill 500 feet from homes and 1,000 from schools and hospitals.

Last year, a leak from an Anadarko gas line led to an explosion in a home in Firestone, killing two and injuring two others.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has called the proposed measure a ban on oil and gas production, and the state agency charged with fostering responsible development says the move could put more than half of the state's land surface out of reach.

Foster notes that the same land surface also would be unavailable for any factory, or even a McDonald's, because – apart from exceptions made for the oil and gas sector – industry zoning isn't allowed in residential areas.

She maintains public health and safety should trump the needs of private companies.

"These areas would be off limits to any other type of industrial development,” she stresses. “We never zone industrial development within neighborhoods, within 2,500 feet of schools – in a lot of cases, just a few hundred feet of school playgrounds."

If organizers collect 98,000 signatures before Aug. 6, the measure still faces an uphill battle.

Colorado Public Radio reported that oil and gas companies invested more than $8 million in a group called Protect Colorado to defeat Initiative 97, Safer Setbacks from Fracking.

The group already has spent more than $1 million to get signatures for a constitutional amendment that would make taxpayers compensate companies if new regulations devalue property.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO