Oil and Gas

No one should bear the risks inherent in living near oil and gas drilling without their consent. We need solutions that guarantee public health and safety without infringing on individual rights and hampering our economy. I propose one here.

There is no question I get asked more frequently as a candidate than where I stand on oil and gas.  And for good reason.  Thousands of folks in our community live and raise their children within a few hundred feet of existing or proposed oil and gas operations.  Here’s where I stand on this contentious and important issue.

No one should bear the risks inherent in living near oil and gas extraction operations without their consent.  The marginal economic benefits of extracting in close proximity to residences and high occupancy buildings do not justify jeopardizing the health and safety of folks who never agreed to those risks.

The failure of our state to protect its citizens from the unwanted dangers of residential fracking is Exhibit A for how our broken system is failing ordinary Coloradans.  The oil and gas industry spends $20 million each year on political influence in our state and there is not an elected Republican or Democrat who is not either taking that money or else afraid of being on the receiving end of attacks financed by it.

Although I understand and empathize with the frustration behind Ballot Initiative 97, which sets mandatory setbacks of 2,500 feet statewide, I think the measure is bad policy and I do not support it.  This is because it does not allow people the freedom to take on the risks associated with extraction if they choose.  If a mineral rights owner on one hundred acres of land wants to sell those rights and have a drilling operation close to their residence, they should be allowed to, so long as no non-consenting individuals are put at risk.

Instead of a mandatory 2,500 foot setback, I favor a 2,500 foot consent perimeter.  Any homeowner within 2,500 feet of a proposed drilling operation must agree to allow the drilling to proceed.  In principle, this could mean new residential drilling in our community, but only if every homeowner with 2,500 feet agrees to allow the drilling operation to proceed.  In practice, this proposal would locally amount to the same thing as Initiative 97, as it is highly unlikely that every homeowner within the consent perimeter in a residential subdivision would agree to allow drilling to proceed.

The consent perimeter solution places public health and safety first and foremost without infringing on people’s individual rights and liberties, and without significantly hampering Colorado’s economy.  But protecting the health and safety of our community requires going beyond simple distance measures from the drilling activity.  Some risks, such as the accidental release of air-borne toxins like hydrogen sulfide, can harm people from miles away.  For this reason, distance measures should be considered only part of our public safety approach – rigorous monitoring and carefully worked out emergency response plans are also needed.  Most importantly, we need elected officials who will unflinchingly do what is best for their community, not the special interests who have hijacked this issue.