Oil and gas have formed an industry with major monetary leverage. Even with attempts to phase out oil and gas in favor of other forms of renewable, sustainable energy, the oil and gas industry still has money, power and influence.
Many people spite the oil and gas industry for its unhealthy and hazardous practices to humans and nature. Others support oil and gas for its profitability and desirability. But when a town has an abundance of these raw materials, oil and gas companies will target that community.
In this past election, Greeley residents voted on many policy changes and initiatives that will affect both Weld County and the state of Colorado. Arguably the most talked-about ballot issue in Greeley before this election was Proposition 112. Proposition 112 ended up failing in Colorado, and the outcome of this vote can have strong effects on Greeley’s economy, safety and environment for years to come.
Proposition 112 was an oil and gas setback measure concerning the distance between these drilling sites and public structures. The current requirements are 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools, and Proposition 112 would’ve increased the distance to 2,500 feet from homes, schools and bodies of water.
The opposition mostly believes Proposition 112 was too strict and would stagnate oil and gas development. Even though some people against are concerned about safety and environmental side effects, many of them think the economic cost is much greater.
If Proposition 112 did pass, the opposition said oil and gas might exit Colorado, leaving many workers without jobs and costing the state a lot of revenue.
Generally, supporters of Proposition 112 thought the half-mile distance would be beneficial because it protects residents in case of an emergency. Proposition 112 would have been beneficial for the natural environment as well as lessen climate change effects. There is also a debate about whether or not horizontal drilling would be a better option, as it allows drill rigs to be farther away from vulnerable areas.
The Weld County website says it is the top producer of oil and gas in Colorado, so this measure affects Greeley and its surrounding cities the most.
Six of Greeley’s seven city council member encouraged the public to vote against Proposition 112 leading up to the election, including Greeley Mayor John Gates. Gates admits that he is not an expert in this issue, but he is assured in his opposition to Proposition 112.
“I believe it is entirely too extreme,” Gates said. “Twenty-five hundred feet is a half a mile, and that’s a long ways.”
Gates said he feels the impact of gas and oil is too strong on the community, as the industry also brings oil workers here to spread money to other businesses around Greeley.
“The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state,” Gates said. “We’re under three percent, and [the economic benefit from the oil and gas industry is] a lot of the reason we are [under three percent].”
Gates said he respects the opinions of Proposition 112 supporters, but its passing could have harshly damaged the economy in Greeley. When discussing what would happen if Proposition 112 passes, Gates said the oil and gas industry people told him they cannot stay.
“While those that are for 112 would probably disagree, that would essentially be a moratorium on oil and gas,” Gates said.
While Gates said there was not much of a remedy for the environmental damage caused by oil and gas, he also said he believes the safety in the industry has gotten a lot better. Gates talked about an oil and gas tour he went on nearly 10 years ago, right after he got on Greeley City Council, versus another tour he received recently.
“I didn’t know much about oil and gas and I still don’t know very much about oil and gas,” Gates said. “But I went on another [tour] about three months ago and I could tell, just as an outsider, how much advancement they’ve made with horizontal drilling and whatnot.”
Prior to election day, Gates said he has researched both sides of this issue. Gates said he trusts the people at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission the most. He also discussed every different group claiming their science is the most accurate, admitting his unsureness of which side is correct.
“If you simply Google something as vague as ‘oil and gas,’ it’ll give you literally hundreds of thousands of articles of different postures,” Gates said.
Greeley resident Carl Erickson is the chairman of Weld Air and Water, an environmental activist group, and very pro-Proposition 112. He also ran for Weld County Commissioner in this 2018 election and lost.
“I’ve lived in close proximity to oil and gas,” Erickson said. “It seems to be closer and closer and closer to residential areas.”
Before the election, Erickson criticized the council for its opposition of Proposition 112. He said the oil and gas industry is funding many of their campaigns. Erickson says all the councilmembers, except Stacy Suniga, have gotten funding from oil and gas. Suniga was the only councilmember to vote in favor of Proposition 112.
Erickson discussed his connections with family in the oil and gas industry. He says the treatment of workers is poor and the industry’s practices are not the most ethical. Erickson also talked about the industry using strong-arm tactics to get what they want.
Erickson’s condemnation of oil and gas also extends to its regulatory bodies. He said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is being extremely favorable towards the oil and gas industry. This is also the organization Gates cited as being one of his most trusted sources.
“We have to have a regulatory agency, not a cheerleading promoter for oil and gas,” Erickson said.
Most of the consequences of this situation are up to speculation at this point, but there is no doubt that oil and gas will stay in Weld County for now, for better or for worse.