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What price oil?

Drilling operation near Frederick, Colorado. Longs Peak in background. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Updated March 23, 1:30 pm

If you were planning a move to Colorado, is this what you’d want to see? Would you buy a home where this picture was taken?

That’s the issue that has been and still is dividing the state. The oil and gas industry wants to drill up and down the I-25 corridor, along the Front Range, from Denver to Cheyenne. Apparently there is a very rich field of oil and gas just north of Denver. This clashes directly with Denver’s very rapid growth — residential suburbs spreading north as fast as developers can build them.

It’s become a race to see who can grab the land first. A measure to restrict (not eliminate) drilling operations in the area failed by a narrow margin in November. Now the state legislature is considering a law that would leave most decisions about drilling to the cities affected. Like other zoning restrictions, drilling locations and decisions would rest with the cities within whose limits the drilling would occur. Sounds fair and logical to me.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is running ads constantly. Misleading ads, if you ask me. The state is NOT trying to drive the industry out of Colorado. The state is NOT acting in the middle of the night to pass its legislation. But the drillers are applying for permits as fast as they can, to get them before any restrictive law can be passed. (Just last night my county enacted a six-month moratorium on new drilling permits. Thank you, commissioners.)

Everyone has heard that such drilling — fracking, to be precise — uses and pollutes precious water supplies, creates air pollution, causes noise, can leak gas or oil and cause explosions and fires, and of course, creates a very real potential for earthquakes (see Oklahoma).

I don’t know how you put a price on lifestyle, safety, and aesthetics, but the oil and gas people are very vocal about how much we’ll lose in tax money, jobs, etc. if we restrict their activities.

For me it’s pretty simple. I didn’t move here just so I could look at more drilling operations … like those I saw in Oklahoma all my life. The little house I bought here in Thornton was already surrounded by residential development for at least a mile in every direction. But the places I dreamed of living were farther north, on high, rolling prairies with gorgeous views of the mountains. And every one of those places is now blighted with drilling rigs. The area has become a depressing checkerboard of drilling operations and residential developments.

How do you put a price on natural beauty? On safety? On peace of mind? I don’t know. I just know I wouldn’t buy a place near a drilling rig. And I agree with the legislature, assuming they pass the new law. Our cities should have the power to regulate any drilling within their limits. Zoning laws. You’ve heard of them. No reason the oil and gas industry should be exempt from them.

Erie, Colorado. Median home value here is $493,000. Drilling rigs free of charge. (Photo by Phil Cherner)
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