If 112 passes, Colorado’s oilfield service jobs will disappear

From the Greeley Tribune

Residents on both sides of a statewide ballot measure that would increase the distance between oil and gas wells and homes, schools and bodies of water to 2,500 feet painted contrasting pictures of what Weld County’s relationship to the measure looks like Thursday during an election forum.

On one hand, if Proposition 112 passes, it could decimate employment options in Weld County for subcontractors who rely on new oil and gas operations, said Bill Jerke, executive director of Fostering Unity and Energizing Leadership, an alliance of local residents and business owners who seek to educate the community about natural resources in Weld County.

Currently, Weld County accounts for 89 percent of all crude oil production and a third of all natural gas production in the state.

“Those people are totally dependent on new operations, on oil and gas being drilled all the time,” he said. “They’d disappear. There’s plenty of places that would welcome them today. Think North Dakota, think Wyoming, think Texas, think Israel.”

On the other hand, said Therese Gilbert of advocacy group Colorado Rising, an Extraction Oil and Gas well currently sits 1,350 feet from the Bella Romero Academy 4-8 campus, and just 625 feet from the school’s soccer field, where kids play regularly. Under Colorado’s current regulations, setback requirements are 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.

“That’s where the kids are outside playing,” she said. “So you can see that that 1,000-foot setback isn’t a setback from where the kids are playing or from where the children are. It’s protecting them while they’re in the school. For me personally, this is where I draw the red line in the sand.”

For voters, there’s just more than one month left to decide which side of the line they stand on.

The League of Women Voters of Greeley-Weld County hosted a ballot issue forum Thursday at Farr Regional Library to help Greeley voters learn more about issues that will appear on the ballot. In addition to Proposition 112, Greeley residents will vote on the renewal of two city sales taxes and changes to Weld County’s Home Rule Charter.

Gilbert said supporters of Proposition 112 have three major goals: to keep toxins from spilling into waterways, keep carcinogens from lung tissues and keep a safe distance from blast zones.

She said that in Greeley, the most recognizable example of oil and gas is the Bella Romero site.

“This is where there have been no compromises reached with the industry,” she said. “It’s not a charter school. They have no choice. It’s a public school. It’s their neighborhood school.”

Extraction Oil and Gas announced in May it would conduct the vast majority of its drilling activity outside of school hours. The announcement came after months of discussion with Greeley-Evans School District 6 officials, and District 6 Superintendent Deirdre Pilch lauded the move at the time.

“Extraction continues to be willing to work with us to limit the impact this site will have on the school, and we appreciate their ongoing communication and consideration of our students and staff,” Pilch said in May.

For Jerke, the measure would mean that while operators could stay in Weld County to tend to existing wells if the measure passes, new projects would dry up, sending workers to other states and countries. He also said the measure likely would prompt several legal battles.

“And believe me, there will be lawsuits,” he said. “It will be a taking of mega proportions.”

Both Gilbert and Jerke acknowledged that the proposition will have an impact on Weld County’s economy if voters approve it. For Gilbert, it’s time for the county to look toward renewable energy, including wind energy.

“Vestas has all four manufacturing plants in Colorado, three of them in Weld County, one outside of Pueblo,” she said. “So, I do think we could have sustainable jobs that would not go away.”

Jerke said oil and gas is easy to access on a daily basis because it comes in concentrate form.

“Think about having to rely only upon the sun or only on wind for 7 billion people,” he said. “That infrastructure would be quite daunting to build.”


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