Western Wire

A bipartisan group of mayors from across Colorado said that the oil and gas measure known as Proposition 112 would “devastate” their communities, destroying the “lifeblood” of their cities, was “reckless” and a “job-killer” at a rally in Denver on Tuesday.

About a dozen mayors from Greeley to Colorado Springs either spoke or shared written statements with the hundreds of oil and gas industry workers and opponents of Proposition 112 on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol.

The current membership of Mayors Against Proposition 112 (MAP112) has increased to 50 mayors from across the state, including the leaders of the top ten largest municipalities, according to organizers of the rally.

MAP112’s coalition includes former mayors like Denver’s Wellington Webb, who led the city from 1991 to 2003, and urged rallygoers to encourage everyone to vote against the measure.

“I wouldn’t miss today being here,” said Webb. “One aspect of what we do in Colorado is we always try to be thoughtful in our responses to issues.”

If passed, Proposition 112 would increase setbacks for new oil and gas development to 2,500 feet, putting more than 85 percent of the state off-limits to new drilling according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“First of all, I don’t like the United States being dependent on other people for oil,” Webb said. “I believe it is very important for our energy independence that we are not beholden to Saudi Arabia and a lot of other countries around the world when we can have our own oil that is developed and done right here in the United States.”

“I have lived in Greeley going to school, I have lived in Sterling going to school, and I can also tell you that we in Colorado—the Colorado way—is not to set aside specific industries to go after because we don’t like them,” Webb said. “We need to be supportive of oil and gas because of what they provide in terms of energy independence, in terms of providing tax money we use in our local communities.”

Webb pointed to the need for dollars to support education.

“We need to be voting no on 112, because much of that tax money goes to our schools, and if anybody needs more tax money, it’s our schools,” Webb argued.

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“Lastly, we know that a lot of people are working in this industry. The Colorado way is not to single out industries and say, ‘we don’t want them here,’” said Webb, who added that the state’s legislative process is where competing interests work for “a system that works for everybody.”

“I’m proud to be here to stand with you and say that here is one city guy that still wears tennis shoes, and says I’m going to be walking with you to say, ‘vote no on 112,’” Webb concluded.

Whether representing the state’s largest city, like Denver, or one of its smaller municipalities in northern Colorado, the mayors who have formed MAP112 detailed their need to speak up on behalf of their communities.

“I know the mayors that stand behind me are proud to be the mayors of their municipality and I know that we recognize our job as mayor is to have your back,” said Johnstown Mayor Scott James, the leader of Mayors Against Proposition 112.

“And to say if you want to bring this stuff, this ill-conceived proposition to the citizens of my community, if you want to impact them in such a negative way, you will have to come through me,” James said.

“You know Fort Lupton is the heart of the [Denver-Julesburg] basin,” said Fort Lupton Mayor Zo Stieber. “In Weld County, in Fort Lupton, in Colorado we are producing energy, and the Colorado economy thrives.”

“Our biggest employer is the oil and gas industry. Like all of you folks our citizens expect services from their municipality, and the job of the city council is to figure out how to make those services happen,” Stieber said. Loss of revenues due to Proposition 112, she said, endangers that prospect.

“It’s pretty hard to figure out which [services] get cut,” Stieber said. “We have to do that.”

“When new homes aren’t purchased in our community, carpenters don’t have jobs—electricians, plumbers. You see where this is going. In an economic downturn you know what happens. Our schools, our fire departments, all generate revenue from oil and gas property tax. It doesn’t happen. It’s a sad spiral,” Stieber said.

Mayors shared the frustration and personal impacts they believed Proposition 112 would have on their residents. For Platteville’s farmers, losing the royalties from subsurface mineral rights would send food costs soaring.

“Platteville is made up of farms and farmers,” said Platteville Mayor Adrienne Sandoval. “It’s going to affect our farmers too—they rely on the royalties and if we can’t rely on that our food prices are going to soar.”

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“The group that is bringing Proposition 112 to the state of Colorado is using about as good science as you cannot get,” quipped Eaton Mayor Kevin Ross. “How more inaccurate could you get?”

“This industry is the lifeblood not only of Colorado, but of the nation, of the world. Without petroleum and gas products nothing exists and we need them more now than we ever have,” Ross continued.

“One of the proponents of this said that the oil and gas industry is immoral. That couldn’t break my heart any more. Oil and gas industry—they’re my friends, my family, they’re my neighbors,” Ross added.

On Saturday, Proposition 112 attorney and spokesman State Rep. Joe Salazar called the oil and gas industry “immoral” at a pro-112 rally.

“The oil and gas industry needs to be looked at as an immoral industry. It has no business here in the state of Colorado. Our state will be fine without them,” Salazar said.

Ross disagreed.

“What you do is a noble and just profession,” Ross said, encouraging rallygoers to show pride in their work. “Oil and gas is a partner in keeping our air clean.”

Development of all kinds has already slowed, thanks to the prospect of Proposition 112.

“I’m a farmer, I’m also a fabricator. I do a lot of fab work for gas and oil, and this will directly hurt my farm, my family’s farm. It will hurt my family at home for the money I make, and it will hurt my community,” said Milliken Mayor Beau Woodcock. “It’s already hurting us,” he added, pointing to companies unwilling to move forward with development plans due to the uncertainty of Proposition 112.

“If it’s hurting us, and you look back and you listen to what these guys are saying, it’s hurting everyone,” Woodcock continued. “What is it going to do to Denver? It’s going to do the same thing down here.”

“We’re farmers, we’re country boys, we work for a living. We’re blue collar. We gotta go out there and get dirty. We gotta go out there and get wet, so they can get the benefits of what we do,” Woodcock said. “They get to enjoy it.”

Evans Mayor Brian Rudy said his municipality’s best estimate is that 1,300 of the 22,000 residents work in oil and gas, and passage of the measure would “devastate” his community.

“It would kill our small businesses, it would hurt our schools, our housing market would crash,” Rudy said.

Rudy recalled the outflow of support from the industry in the aftermath of the September 2013 floods, with “heavy equipment, manpower, port-a-potties for our city when we didn’t have a wastewater treatment to flush our toilets, it was the oil and gas industry, and our city can’t thank you enough.”

“Just as the oil and gas industry had the backs of the city of Evans, the city of Evans has your back as well. Our city council voted unanimously to pass a resolution to say no on 112,” Rudy said.

Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko said her councilmembers also passed a unanimous resolution opposing the setback measure.

“Not only are we here to support our fellow cities and their right to decide for themselves how to govern their own municipalities, I’m also here for the citizens of Centennial that work in the oil and gas industry and they are plenty,” Piko said.

Several other municipalities have also voted to oppose the measure, including the City Councils of Thornton and Greeley. The Weld County Board of County Commissioners led the local government opposition to Proposition 112 with its vote in September vehemently opposing the increased setbacks it dubbed a “de facto ban.”

Others who spoke at the event included Greeley Mayor John Gates and Johnstown-Milliken RE-5J School District President Pastor Steve McCarthy. James also read the statements of many mayors who were unable to attend the Denver rally, but wished to share their reasoning for opposing Proposition 112, including from Colorado Springs and Denver.

Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul shared his thoughts via a written statement, calling Proposition 112 a “job-killer.”

“112 is a job-killer for Colorado. A job-killer that not only threatens extraction but the supply chain, engineering, and educational institutions that not only support traditional methods, but seek newer, safer, and cleaner methods,” wrote Paul. “We as a state are better when we come together to work on challenging issues that seek meaningful solutions, without dividing the state. We must support all forms of energy while working together to minimize impacts and find new technologies that will allow our economy to thrive while protecting the environment. 112 falls short of this.”

“As the mayor of Colorado’s third largest city, I strongly oppose Proposition 112,” wrote Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare, calling the measure “reckless” and that it would “cripple” the state’s economy.

“Aurora’s government has worked hand-in-hand with the natural gas and oil industry to strike a balance that ensures both responsible development while likewise promoting the health and safety of our citizens,” he added, saying the relationship between industry and Aurora was “positive.”

“But we must first defeat Proposition 112,” LeGare concluded.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens, and Thornton Mayor Heidi Williams also shared comments opposing Proposition 112, praising the collaboration and willingness to work shown by industry in their respective communities. In addition, Sarah MacQuiddy, President of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, Sara Blackhurst of Action 22, representing 22 southern Colorado counties, and Karl Paulson of Club 20, representing the state’s western slope, all opposed Proposition 112.