Anti-fracking chaos in Colorado
By David Wojick, PhD
The anti-fracking folks are trying a clever new strategy in Colorado. Instead of banning fracking, they just make it impossible. In fact, they make nearly all oil and gas development and production impossible – which is exactly what radical “leave it in the ground” eco factions demand.
However, the Colorado focus seems to be fracking (horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing) because, being new, it is the scariest. And people sure are being scared.
The new trick is called “buffer zones,” which means areas where drill rigs and fracturing work cannot be done, so nothing can be found or produced. Colorado already has 500-foot diameter buffer zones around every house and 1,000-footers around things like schools and hospitals.
Now comes Proposition 112, which is on The Centennial State’s November election ballot. This fake “green” hummer does three bad things. First, it extends the buffer zone to 2,500 feet, which around a house is a whopping 25 times bigger circle than before.
Second, it adds these big buffer zones to natural features like “intermittent streams,” which pretty much covers the entire state. After all, every time it rains hard, the water has to run off in a temporary stream – and it rains everywhere at some point, even in arid Colorado. Right?
Note that these stream buffer zones are not circles. They are honking, gerrymandered rectangles almost a mile wide and as long as the so-called stream. Note that intermittent streams are not there most of the time, maybe 90% of the time. But their huge buffer zone is there 24/7/365, waiting for rains that may or may not come.
To top off this insanity, local governments are allowed to make even bigger buffer zones, as big as they like. If two jurisdictions overlap, the bigger buffer rules.
Analysts estimate that fully 85% of all the private land in Colorado will be closed to oil and gas exploration under Prop 112. That is more than enough to destroy the industry. But if “intermittent stream” is interpreted broadly enough, it could well be 100%. As I said, it rains everywhere.
Note that neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the State of Colorado is proposing this nonsense, because there is no science to support it. So rabid greens are trying to scare voters into passing it, thereby bypassing the responsible government agencies.
Of course, the greens have tons of pseudoscience on their side. The foundation of the scare is a huge March 2018 report from the Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR), a well known far-left green group. The PSR report has this appropriately menacing title:
What the infamous IPCC reports are to the cataclysmic climate change scare, this PSR report is to the fracking scare. Like the IPCC reports, it is mostly just speculation. There are all sorts of speculative “risks,” but very few actual, documented harms – and these harms are mostly oil and gas industry accidents, or relatively minor seismic activity associated with injecting all kinds of municipal and industrial fluids deep underground. They have nothing to do with fracking.
That there is no actual science supporting these industry-crushing, economy-crushing monster buffer zones does not deter the greens one bit. (Does it ever?) The leading environmentalist organization pushing Prop 112 is Colorado Rising. (Rising from or to what, we do not know.)
Colorado Rising's “explanation page” features this screaming all-caps headline:
This is purely and simply a lie. But it is well masked by the impenetrable PSR report.
PSR has even produced a 4-page “special report” for Colorado, highlighting some supposed local studies. Not one looked at measures of proximity, such as 500 feet versus 2,500 feet. Some even looked at differences between counties!
Not one acknowledged EPA and other studies that found no impacts on groundwater from properly conducted fracking operations. Even a landmark 2015 Obama era U.S. EPA study found almost no instances where fracking contaminated subsurface drinking water.
Even worse, none of these studies looks at intermittent streams, which are the real killer in Prop 112. Colorado Rising carefully avoids this issue, perhaps because ditches don't vote – more likely because the economic impacts would be so devastating. Better to stick to scaring people.
In short, there is no science whatsoever to support Proposition 112. Colorado stands to lose billions of dollars with this "leave it in the ground" nonsense. But since they are not formally banning fracking, at least not on paper (just in reality), it all looks innocent and harmless.
However, a University of Colorado Leeds School of Business study projects that even a 2,000-foot setback could cut Colorado’s GDP by as much as $11 billion per year and eliminate 62,000 jobs by 2030. Prop 112 would likely double those destructive impacts.
There is a great deal of confusion over this clever trick, because some see it for what it is, but many do not. The press coverage is a study in confusion and chaos, which is just what the greens want. Scary assertions, no matter how far-fetched or unlikely, frighten voters. If there were a prize for brilliant green Halloween tricks, Prop 112 would surely get the blue ribbon.
Moreover, this is clearly a national issue, not just a Colorado fight. The Washington Post puts it succinctly with this headline:
If any state implements a crazy rule like this, intense pressure will be placed on all the other states, as well as the Federal Government, to do likewise.
The results would be catastrophic – at both the state and national level – for oil and natural gas production, jobs and salaries, state and local revenues, pension plans, unemployment compensation and welfare programs, oil and gas exports, national security, and America’s newfound position as a global energy leader.
Let’s hope voters wake up to this pending disaster before November 6.
David Wojick is an independent analyst specializing in science and logic in public policy. He also does confidential research and consulting.