DENVER — The debate on the topic of how far should oil and gas operations be from homes and schools could get a lot more intense if a proposed ballot measure in Colorado qualifies for the ballot.
Currently, oil and gas operations cannot take place within 500 feet of a home or building and 1,000 feet from a school.
“I really am concerned with the proximity of wells to homes and schools,” said Beth Ewaskowitz, a supporter of the campaign.
Ewaskowitz, who lives in Erie, said she got involved in the signature gathering-effort after being concerned for her son’s safety.
“I counted it up and there are 156 wells within a one mile radius of our home, Ewaskowitz said.
Ewaskowitz said 2,500 feet is not an arbitrary number; it is equivalent to a half-a mile or the typical area evacuated when something goes wrong.
In order to make the ballot, more than 98,000 signatures are needed. Campaign organizers declined to say how close they are but one official said “they are on track to make the ballot.”
It should be noted a similar effort was attempted in 2016, but organizers at the time failed to collect enough valid signatures.
The oil and gas community is preparing for a major and costly political fight should this qualify for the ballot.
“I consider this to be a ban on oil and gas in Colorado,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Haley, like all major energy groups, is opposed to the measure, believing more than $7 billion in economic activity would be lost if this would be approved — not to mention thousands of jobs.
“This would be a huge hit on our economy, we are talking about 100,000 jobs over the next five years if this were to pass,” Haley said.
“We really urge Coloradans to be careful when they see those signature gathers out there.”
State officials recently weighed in, publishing a study reporting 85 percent of nonfederal land in Colorado would be ineligible for development should this measure pass.
Organizers continue to stress the importance of safety while also claiming they are being harassed by paid oil and gas supporters.
The Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners issued this statement:
“It’s not just mineral owners who have a lot at stake if something like Initiative 97, which would enact 2,500-foot setbacks and eliminate oil and gas development on 85 percent of non-federal land, passes. All of Colorado should be deeply concerned about the impact the initiative would have on our communities and future workforce,” said Neil Ray, president of CAMRO. “Colorado’s schools would face extreme financial hardship. Our schools already have experienced budget cuts. Can they withstand additional hits financially? Our students deserve better.”