Two studies, two different findings on the impacts of Proposition 112

Ballot measure to limit where drilling can happen
Posted at 8:24 PM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 22:24:31-04

DENVER -- Two studies, two maps: One from the state; the other from the Colorado School of Mines.

Both have drastically different findings on how much land would be accessible and off-limits under Proposition 112.

The statewide ballot measure creates a half-mile buffer zone between new oil sites and houses, schools and drinking water sources — five times the current requirements of 500 and a 1,000 feet.

"This will ban our industry in Colorado," said Dan Haley with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

"It is absolutely not a ban on the industry," said Anne Lee Foster with Colorado Rising, the group behind Prop 112.

What is the average voter to do with the endless data, and contradicting information around this highly contentious issue?

Here's what we know:

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency in charge of regulating the industry, conducted one of the studies.

Through GIS mapping calculations, the state's analysis found 85 percent of non-federal land would be off limits to new drilling under Prop 112.

"Ninety-four percent of the top five oil and gas producing counties in Colorado will be off limit to new oil and gas development," further explained Haley.

However, the state's study doesn't consider newer technology the industry is using known as horizontal drilling. It's a technique that allows oil companies to drill for up to four miles, from one location to access the oil and natural gas trapped in the shale rock below the surface.

A newly released commentary report from Peter Maniloff, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Mines Payne Institute, crunched the numbers to take this technology into account. Assuming operators could drill up to one mile from any location, Maniloff found 42 percent of non-federal lands would be available for new drilling if Prop 112 passes. Therefore, 58 percent would be off limits.

A drastically different figure than the 85 percent the state came up with.

"They're a rubber stamp agency for the industry so it's not surprising that they would present this in a way that was misleading to the public," said Foster.

"There is no credible science or definitive evidence that says the setback in Colorado needs to be any larger than what it already is," said Haley.

Denver7 reached out the COGCC for clarification and to find out why the state's analysis doesn't consider the newer technology.

"COGCC’s GIS-Based Impact Assessment evaluated what surface is off-limits. Other research into what could be accessed is outside the scope of COGCC’s report," said spokesman Travis Duncan in an email. "The Colorado School of Mines study is a brief statement of what sub-surface area might be reached using horizontal drilling. There is no analysis into engineering constraints or production potential for the areas this statement opens. The COGCC does not dispute this commentary."

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.