A drilling permit application meeting among Colorado regulators can often be a sleepy affair. But on Monday, supporters and opponents of Proposition 112 took over the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's public comment period, offering heated and impassioned testimony of the pros and cons of the ballot measure.
If voters pass it, Proposition 112 would require any new oil and gas development not on federal land to be set back about a half-mile from homes and “vulnerable areas” like playgrounds, lakes and rivers.
“You are charged with protecting health safety and welfare of the citizens of this state, especially the children. You have neglected this highest duty,” Elisabeth Gick said to commissioners. She’s a member of Colorado Rising, an organization backing the measure.
The booming oil and gas industry and rapid population growth along the northern Front Range means more drilling and extraction facilities are appearing closer to homes and businesses, and tensions between the two have risen in recent years.
Current state regulations prohibit oil and gas facilities from being closer than 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools, health care centers, and other high-occupancy buildings
Supporters say Proposition 112 will reduce health issues of for people living and working near drilling sites, and give property owners greater certainty about the location of new nearby oil and gas sites.
Opponents say the measure would eliminate new oil and gas activity on most non-federal land in the state and would cost jobs. State and local governments would also receive less in tax revenue if the measure were to pass, they say.
Monday's public testimony was dominated by women. Grandmothers, mothers and aunts weighed in on both sides of the issue. Several women who worked for the oil and gas industry touted its economic benefits.
“Oil and gas has allowed my husband and I to raise our three kids in Colorado, and go on to graduate from college and they are now productive members of society,” said Sharon Zamora, an oil and gas engineer.
Although supporters and opponents were both present at the meeting, environmentalists dominated testimony. Several raised concerned about a backlog of more than 5,000 drilling permits that have flooded into the commission in recent months. Many drillers are trying to get their permits higher in the queue should Proposition 112 pass.
“We find it appalling that you’re looking to approve a flurry of permits just days before we have a chance to vote,” Proposition 112 supporter Deb McNamara said to commissioners.
Colorado Natural Resources Chief Bob Randall said the commission will not speed up or slow down the pace at which it approves the permits in response to the election. He called it business as usual at the agency.