With Voters Considering New Setback Regs, Drillers Rush To Secure Oil & Gas Permits

<p>Ed Andrieski/AP</p>
<p>The sun sets behind an oil pump jack near Fredrick, Colo., in 2012.</p>
Photo: Oil drilling, pump jack, Colorado, sunset
The sun sets behind an oil pump jack near Fredrick, Colo., in 2012.

There's evidence that a proposed 2,500 foot setback initiative that voters will make a decision on in November is already having an impact on the state’s oil and gas industry. Proposition 112 would increase the distance between drill sites and buildings five-fold from the current distance of 500 feet.

Drillers are compressing project timelines in order to secure permits before Nov. 6.

In September, Colorado regulators reported a backlog of 5,040 drilling permits through Aug. 31 of this year. There were 1,802 permits — known as form 2s — at the same time in 2017.

Magpie Operating Inc., in Loveland, told the Loveland Reporter-Herald it originally planned to pursue state permits in 2019. But the specter of change under Proposition 112 pushed Magpie to file for permits now.

The company declined an interview request from CPR News.

Prop 112 would push oil and gas development 2,500 feet away from homes, apartments, parks open space and rivers. Proponents are concerned about air quality and health impacts associated with drilling.

“We are taking unacceptable risk with other people’s children,” said Therese Gilbert, a Greeley resident and volunteer for Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112. “You’re placing these industrial sites where there’s highly pressurized flammable liquids and gasses 1,000 feet from where kids are playing.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry’s trade group, said the rush for permits is no surprise.

“The economics are good for oil and natural gas development in Colorado. That, plus the fact that Proposition 112 is an attempt to ban our businesses, is pushing permitting application levels,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of COGA, via email.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said the agency is aware of the growing backlog, adding that “staff does not control what is submitted, but is applying the same caliber of review to what is approved.”