The 411 on Prop 112: Proponents concerned about health effects of oil and gas

DENVER - Are there negative health effects associated with oil and gas development in Colorado? That's what the Problem Solvers are looking into as we keep you informed as the election nears.

The supporters of Proposition 112, which would make any new oil and gas development be at least 2,500 feet from homes, schools, businesses and more, say there are plenty of negative health effects and studies to prove it.

However, Colorado's oil and gas industry says fracking is safe and the setbacks -- as they're called -- are more than adequate at their current distances: 500 feet for homes and 1,000 feet for schools and high-occupancy buildings.

"My son asked me one time, 'What am I supposed to do if it blows up? Am I going to be safe if it blows up?' And I didn't have a response," Patrica Nelson told the Problem Solvers.

Nelson helped collect the signatures that put Prop 112 on the ballot, in part, because of health concerns.

Those concerns are shared by the group Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"You look at something as a health professional and you say, 'Is there reasonable cause to think that there is harm happening here?' And there is," said Barbara Donachy, a public health professional who's a part of PSR.

Donachy points to a number of studies that have been conducted on oil and gas production, both in Colorado and across the country.

One study says that oil and gas development, including fracking, can lead to "a greater prevalence of CHD," or coronary heart disease.

A different study says it’s "associated with increased odds of mild, moderate and even severe asthma."

And yet another study says that current "setbacks may leave the public vulnerable to explosions, radiant heat, toxic gas clouds, and air pollution from hydraulic fracturing activities."

But it goes on to basically say that changing those setbacks "may not be sufficient to reduce potential threats to human health."

Almost all of the studies also say more research needs to be done on the issue.

Despite those studies, the oil and gas industry, along with those against Prop 112, are more concerned about the potential job losses, as they feel fracking and oil and gas development are already safe.

"If I didn’t feel safe, I wouldn’t be here," said Mike Eberhard, the chief operating officer for SRC Energy. "And I come out to these locations. Our people come out every day they feel very safe.

"These facilities are state of the art," Eberhard also said. "Basically zero emissions."

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment has also looked at studies about the oil and gas industry.

Its conclusion: "the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living near oil and gas operations."

Voters will ultimately decide Prop 112's fate on Nov. 6.

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