Does new drilling technology diminish impacts of Prop 112?

Denver7 answers viewer questions on Prop 112
Posted at 8:15 PM, Oct 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-15 22:15:20-04

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DENVER -- As Election Day nears, the noise around Proposition 112 is reaching a fever pitch. 

The statewide ballot measure to limit drilling in Colorado would increase the setback for new wells to half a mile from homes, schools, and other "vulnerable areas."

Denver7 has covered this issue extensively and the many perspectives on both sides. We first took a 360 look when it was a proposed measure and called initiative 97 and most recently when organizers gathered enough signatures to get Prop 112 on the November ballot.

Since then dozens of viewers have reached out with more questions and viewpoints that we have shared in several follow-ups.  


For this article, Denver7 aimed to answer one specific question we have received from numerous viewers in Denver, Arvada and even Glenwood Springs.

"Directional drilling apparently allows access to oil and gas deposits up to two miles from the drill point. Wouldn't the ability to directionally or horizontally drill diminish the impacts of the 2500-foot setback?" said Andrea from Glenwood Springs, who summed it up best.

Denver7 took this question to the most unbiased expert on this issue we could find.

Will Fleckenstein, a professor at Colorado School of Mines and petroleum engineer with more than three decades of experience working in the industry and studying shale drilling in Colorado.

"You can probably drill laterals maybe four miles in length, you can go sideways as much a mile," he explained.

Fleckenstein said while the technology to drill that far away does exist, under Proposition 112, it is not that simple.

"The 2500 feet is going to limit where you can put any surface locations so it won't matter how far you can drill," he said. "You're just physically not going to be able to get to the best parts of where people would like to drill."

Fleckenstein shared the diagram below to show what horizontal drilling looks like. He said oil companies drill vertically first, with a slight curve, and then can go horizontally up to four miles underground.

However, Fleckenstein said the industry still needs to operate a drill rig from somewhere and therein lies the problem in communities being impacted by oil and gas.

"You start running into homes on the other side of these sensitive areas," he explained.

The so-called sweet spot for oil drilling in Colorado is known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin. It is made up of tight, oil-rich shale rock and a large portion of it sits in the middle of booming Northern Colorado.

Thus, Fleckenstein said, there is not a lot of land or surface area to work with to begin with. And in a lot of cases, pushing new drill rigs half a mile from one home puts it too close to a different home.

"It's not as though I am going to take this area where we are now and go from 500 feet to 2500 feet. The problem is you have something encroaching from the other side and that's taking away the ability to drill at all," he said.

Supporters of Proposition 112 argue these rigs have no business being in neighborhoods in the first place. In their view, the setbacks are needed to protect the health and safety of residents. They point to the deadly Firestone explosion last year, and more than a dozen other explosions at oil sites as proof the industry is a danger near communities.

Colorado Rising also sent out a release on Mondayciting new analysis from an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Mines, they say disproves industry claims that Prop 112 is a bank on oil and gas development.

“This is proof of the industry’s use of wild exaggerations and fear-mongering to avoid even the most common sense protections for our communities. Oil & gas has chosen to use a misleading map, based on outdated technology, to convince the public that 112 is a ban, when in fact they would be able to access significant reserves, at least three times what they falsely claim," said Anne Lee Foster with Colorado Rising in the release. "We have seen these Chicken Little scare tactics from big corporations before, and Coloradans aren’t falling for it again.”

Denver7 plans to do another follow-up story on this report from supporters on Tuesday at 5/6 p.m.