Group files signatures to put fracking buffer zone on ballot

DENVER — Grassroots group Colorado Rising has submitted more than 171,000 signatures for the “Safer Setbacks from Fracking” initiative to the secretary of state, more than the number required to qualify for the ballot in November.

The secretary of state’s office will begin the process of verifying the signatures.

Initiative 97 would create 2,500-foot buffer zones between oil and gas operations, and homes and schools, water sources and playgrounds. The distance – almost one-half mile – aligns with studies that show increased risk of negative health impacts within this zone, according to the group.

The grassroots effort was led by more than 750 Colorado volunteers from across the state.

The setback distance also matches the emergency evacuation radius used by first responders when faced with explosions, fires and toxic leaks. In 2017, there were 15 oil and gas industry fires and explosions in Colorado, including the Firestone home explosion that killed two men and severely burned a schoolteacher. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission has received more than 2,200 complaints from 2015 to May of this year about oil and gas operations.

“Oil and gas development has exploded over the last seven years in Weld County, and I have witnessed a change in the way people view the issue,” said Therese Gilbert, a schoolteacher from Greeley.  “As more people experience what it is like to have fracking happen so close to where they live — the explosions, weekly spill reports, their children getting asthma, they are now saying ‘enough is enough.’  When the frack wells started going in right behind schools, a line was crossed. The industry cannot be allowed to take risks with our children.”

Heidi Henkel, founder of Broomfield Moms Active Community,” said in a prepared statement: “With nine out of eleven bills killed in our legislature and hundreds of heartbreaking testimonies given to the COGCC with no action, it’s time our citizens are heard with this ballot measure. It is long overdue, and I am pleased with the outpouring of support from so many statewide. The state has failed to protect us, so we’ve taken it into our own hands.”