Safe and Healthy Colorado Coalition Calls for Phasing Out New Oil and Gas Permits by 2030

Ahead of Earth Day 2023, Safe & Healthy Colorado, a grassroots coalition of dozens of endorsing community and statewide organizations, has launched a statewide ballot initiative for a gradual phase out of new oil and gas permits by 2030, curtailing fracking first in the most polluted communities and promoting a just transition for workers and communities to a clean renewable energy future. Today the coalition submitted language to the Colorado Legislative Council – the first step in the process to place a ballot measure on the 2024 statewide ballot – to rein in fracking in Colorado.

“Colorado can continue to be a leader in a clean energy economy, and we can clean up our air and water, but we can’t do that while continuing to commit ourselves to the polluting industries of the last century,” said Heidi Leathwood, one of several spokespeople for the Safe and Healthy Colorado coalition. Leathwood began a second career as a climate policy analyst with coalition member group 350 Colorado partly as a result of unsuccessful efforts to protect her mother’s Greeley neighborhood from residential fracking. “We’re giving massive profits to oil and gas companies while they make us pay more than a billion dollars a year  in environmental and health care costs. This ballot initiative is a chance for the people to stand up to the polluters, take control and move our state toward the clean energy future we deserve.”

The ballot initiative would reduce pollution, protect Colorado’s land, air and water, and promote the transition to clean energy, by stopping the expansion of new oil and gas operations with a plan to gradually phase out new oil and gas permits by 2030. The ballot measure would help create a safer, healthier future for our families and future generations through a just transition beyond oil and gas drilling and ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling) to clean, renewable energy.

“I want clean air, clean water and a thriving future on a livable planet for all kids. I want Colorado to continue leading in the green economy. We need to say goodbye to 20th century energy production. This ballot initiative is a step toward the future that Coloradans need and our kids deserve.” said Kate Christensen. Kate is a founding member of Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (TAND), one of the endorsing coalition groups. She started TAND when the land around her kids’ school was optioned for fracking.

With this initiative, Coloradans can ‘protect our land, air, and water and continue to lead the way in taking on climate change with a real plan to phase out fracking in a way that grows our economy and protects Colorado’s environment.’ The initiative prioritizes disproportionately impacted communities and helps Colorado to continue leadership in the clean energy economy.

Patricia Garcia-Nelson became concerned about fracking after learning that a large fracking operation had been moved from a more affluent school to within a few hundred feet of the playground at her child’s school in Greeley. She and many of her community members have spoken up to try to stop the oil and gas extraction, especially after air monitoring by the school showed numerous spikes of carcinogenic benzene, but so far their efforts have been unsuccessful.

“Time is running out to make meaningful change, we are taking action as an act of survival,” said Garcia-Nelson, a proponent for the ballot initiative. “We have a responsibility to protect our water, land, and air. Our children and future generations deserve a Colorado where they can thrive. A phase out of oil & gas permitting will protect our communities and prevent further harm. We can’t wait for the politicians to catch up with the fact that a fossil fuel free future is already within our reach.”

Colorado is already a leader in the clean energy economy, which is creating jobs and economic opportunity across the state and around the world. Phasing out fracking with this initiative would mean ‘we stop chaining ourselves to the economy of the past and continue to lead and create jobs in the clean energy economic revolution that’s underway’ say proponents.

A recent report from the Colorado Fiscal Institute called “Clearing the Air” will cost taxpayers well over $13 billion of damages between 2020 and 2030 in environmental and health damage.  The report reads, “The industry creates significant health, environmental, and other costs that are paid by Coloradans, not the industry. While some serious impacts of oil and gas development are not quantifiable, many are.” The ballot measure proponents hope to save communities money and help families’ bottom lines by phasing out that source of economic and environmental damage. The oil and gas industry is only 3.3% of Colorado’s GDP and less than 1% (0.7%) of total employment, the report showed.

Polling released in 2022 shows that 82% of Coloradans consider climate change a serious problem, with 98% saying wildfires that threaten homes and property are a serious problem here, and the vast majority want action to address climate change now. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent assessment from last year, there is “high confidence” that human-influenced rising temperatures are a direct cause of the extension of the wildfire season, increased drought, and decreased precipitation in the Southwest United States. Colorado has already paid between $20 billion and $50 billion in climate-related disasters since 1980, with most of that damage occurring since 2010.

“Emissions from oil and gas production and combustion are the #1 source of both our state’s contribution to the climate crisis and our ‘severe’ ozone air pollution issues along the Front Range,” says Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado. “Coloradans are already experiencing the dangerous impacts of the climate crisis, including worsening wildfires, increased drought, floods, temperature extremes, and detrimental impacts on industries such as winter sports and agriculture. We need to begin phasing out new permits for oil and gas fracking to protect our health, safety and children’s futures.”

In addition to worsening wildfires and extreme weather, depletion and destruction of water is another serious impact of climate change that is also worsened by fracking for oil and gas. Every fracked well uses millions of gallons of water that ends up permanently polluted. By phasing out new permits for oil and gas extraction, the initiative would protect drinking water supplies that are precious to farmers like Andre Houssney, another spokesperson for the campaign who is concerned about drought that is threatening Colorado’s agricultural industry.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of last summer, at least 32,860 acres of land have burned in at least 337 wildland fires across the state. Colorado’s air quality due to wildfire smoke as well as oil and gas pollution have meant increased levels of smog, with Colorado recently facing its worst air quality in over a decade. Ozone levels have also spiked, accelerating the need for stronger protections at both state and local levels in order to best protect Colorado communities from adverse health impacts.

“The overwhelmingly negative impacts of fossil fuel production on the health and wellbeing of our communities, particularly our children, are unacceptable,” said Barbara Donachy, MPH, Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado Board of Directors. “Whether directly from toxic emissions or indirectly from greenhouse gas emissions leading to our increasingly hot summers and raging wildfires, we all suffer. We must change our direction and change it as quickly and fairly as possible.”

Dar-Lon Chang is an ex-oil and gas researcher currently transitioning to a clean energy career as a director of the startup company, GeoSolar Technologies, for renovating and building net-zero, all-electric homes and buildings. He was a research engineer for ExxonMobil from 2003 to 2019, but quit because he was not seeing a good faith effort to help an energy transition away from limited and dangerous fossil fuels.

“Instead, management was focusing the skills and talents of my colleagues and me on locking the world into dependence on fossil fuels for several decades when hard evidence indicates that fossil fuels would become unaffordable not only in price and health impacts in those decades but also in consequences from a runaway climate crisis,” said Chang. “Moreover, ExxonMobil was leading the oil and gas industry in misleading the public and policymakers with disinformation contrary to its own internal findings about the devastating consequences of the continued growth of fossil fuel use. I know from personal experience that fossil fuel companies will resist, obstruct, and fight the necessary transition to a clean, renewable energy future. Knowing this, I believe that policy is urgently needed to transition oil and gas workers to clean energy jobs while phasing out new oil and gas permits by 2030.”

Placing a measure on the statewide ballot will require approximately 125,000 physical signatures on petitions. The ballot initiative proponents encourage anyone who wants to pledge to sign an initiative petition  or support the campaign in other ways to visit to learn more.

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