LETTER: Prop 112 — what’s really at stake?

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EDITOR: The oil and gas industry has spent more than 33 million dollars on an anti-112 campaign designed to distract Coloradans from the real issues involved, namely, the toxic emissions, fires, spills, and explosions at well sites that endanger public health and safety at current state setback distances.

Before 2012, fracked wells were only required to be 350 feet from homes in Colorado. Since 2012, the state setback from homes is 500 feet and 1,000 feet from schools and hospital buildings. However, the city of Aurora and Weld County use a state regulatory loophole to allow developers to build new homes 150 feet from existing wells.

Fracking, the extracting of oil or natural gas from shale, is a heavy industrial activity posing numerous serious risks to safety and health, risks that increase greatly within the current setback limits.

Here are some key facts relevant to Prop 112 and setback distance:

1) Toxic emissions:  occur daily in all development phases of fracking well sites, resulting in increased respiratory and neurologic problems, low birth weight, birth defects, skin and stomach problems, and increased risk of cancer for people who live within 0.5 miles of a fracking well site. No monitoring information is collected and made public to alert residents to dangerous increases in well site toxic emissions. Proposition 112 would require a 2,500-foot setback for new wells, to protect Coloradans from the health risks associated with living within 0.5 miles of fracked wells.

2) Fracking well site failure events: (fires, explosions, blowouts, spills) are not rare. They are reported to occur in Colorado on average of 1 a month. That number would be 2.5 times higher, if Colorado required that all fires and explosions be reported.

3) Fracking explosions: create blast craters of up to 750 feet and projectile ejection of equipment, crude product, and toxic chemical laden wastewater well beyond that. The potential blast radius is within the (pre 2012) 350-foot setback and the (post 2012) 500-foot setback from homes. It is a mere 250 feet from a school building’s 1,000-foot setback, but well inside the grounds of school sports fields and playground areas.

4) Fracking fires: can burn uncontrollably for days or weeks, producing toxic fumes that carry for miles. Fires burn at temperatures exceeding 3,500˚F, with risk of second-degree blister burns at 500 feet in 30 minutes, in 22 seconds at 350 feet, and in 16 seconds at 250 feet, long before evacuation could begin.

5) Blowout: pressure control failures result in high velocity ejection of product and equipment and often result in fires and plumes of toxins such as hydrogen sulfide. A 2017 Hudson blowout ejected oil, gas, and drilling waste 2000 feet, well beyond current setback requirements for homes and schools.

When a fire or explosion occurs, evacuation zones average 0.8 miles from the blast or fire. Nearby residents are not warned about what to expect regarding toxic emissions, spills, fires, blowouts, explosions, nor given evacuation training. Furthermore, local fire departments are not equipped to deal with such high intensity industrial fires and explosions, so oil companies bring in expert help from Texas, taking 1-2 days to arrive. The recent High Country News article, “ When Your Neighborhood Goes Boom,” that describes narrowly averted larger disasters of the 2017 Windsor well explosion, is a must read to begin to grasp the community impact of frack well failure events.

Oil and gas companies have aggressively used their vast profits to prevent local and state governments from requiring health and safety based setbacks. Ballot initiative 112 therefore proposes health and safety based setbacks to be instituted by direct vote of the people. The 2,500-foot setback will better protect Coloradans from known health impacts of chronic exposure to well site toxic emissions and from well site fires and explosions.

No extra margin of profit is worth the readily preventable debilitation or deaths of Coloradans.

No industry has the right to endanger community safety and property values, nor the health, safety, and very lives of families in our great state, for more profit and convenience. Vote yes on 112.

— Sonia Skakich-Scrima, Aurora, via [email protected]