Colorado’s Fracking Fright

Proposition 112 would prohibit almost all new oil and gas production.

A hydraulic fracturing rig is seen in Weld County, Colorado, Feb. 4, 2016.
A hydraulic fracturing rig is seen in Weld County, Colorado, Feb. 4, 2016. PHOTO: MATTHEW STAVER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

California normally gets all the attention on the front lines of environmental activism. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill to “decarbonize” all electricity production by 2045. But in real-world implications for the rest of the country, Colorado also deserves attention. A measure heading for the fall ballot would shut down nearly all oil and gas production in one of the top energy-producing states.
 
Colorado’s current rules on energy production prohibit oil and gas operations within 500 feet of a home or 1,000 feet of a school or hospital. But an environmental group called Colorado Rising has collected enough signatures for a proposal on the November ballot to expand these buffer zones and effectively create bans in nearly all of the state.
 
Proposition 112 would restrict new energy development within a 2,500-foot radius of any building, playground, amphitheater, park, body of water or “any other additional vulnerable areas designated by the state or local government.” The restrictions rule out 85% of all non-federal land in the state, according to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. In the five counties that produce 90% to 95% of Colorado’s oil and gas, 94% of non-federal land would be off-limits. The implications of such a ban would be national. Colorado ranks fifth among the states in production of natural gas and seventh for oil.

 
In the first year the restrictions would take $201 million to $258 million out of state and local tax revenue. As energy production dwindled, that loss could rise to $1.1 billion annually by 2030, according to a Common Sense Policy Roundtable analysis reviewed by faculty from the Colorado School of Mines. The ban could kill up to 147,800 jobs and reduce state GDP by perhaps $218 billion between 2018 and 2030.
 
It’s no surprise that GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton opposes the ballot measure. More interesting is that his Democratic rival, left-wing Congressman Jared Polis, does too. Prop. 112 “would all but ban fracking in Colorado—a position I have never supported,” Mr. Polis said last month.
Score one for the reality check of having to face voters in a general election. In 2014 Mr. Polis financed campaigns for ballot initiatives to expand buffer zones and allow more local restrictions on energy production. Prop. 112’s restrictions go further.
 
Colorado isn’t California yet. In 2016 environmentalists failed to get enough signatures to put a similarly draconian measure on the ballot. Also that year, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a Fort Collins fracking moratorium and a ban in Longmont.
 
Colorado Rising claims this new effort was “started by local people and grassroots groups across the state.” That’s false modesty. Spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster admitted that Food and Water Watch and 350.org, both national green groups, had given nearly $250,000 to the effort. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earth Guardians have endorsed Prop. 112.
 
If this proposition passes in Colorado, the same de facto bans on energy production will migrate to other states.
 
 

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