The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently announced it plans to significantly increase, in some cases quadruple, setback rules limiting where oil and gas can be harvested. Though the regulatory agency claims to be championing public health and safety, its proposed setbacks are completely arbitrary and would all but kill the state’s energy industry — and have real consequences for Coloradoans.
Regulators should think twice about the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in education funding they could be putting at risk at a time when the economy and tax revenue are already down.
This move would be a death blow to the state’s second-largest industry, which is already facing an uphill battle thanks to the COVID-19 shutdowns. Oil and gas production employs more than 30,000 Coloradoans, supports hundreds of thousands of additional jobs, and produces 5-10 percent of the state’s economy. It contributes a billion dollars annually to the state’s coffers through property, severance, and mill levy taxes, much of which helps fund Colorado’s public schools.
In addition to lost jobs and tax revenue, the need to import energy from other states or even nations will increase the cost of energy, particularly natural gas. Higher energy prices inevitably drive up the cost of living, since energy underpins every sector of our economy — worsening poverty, reducing disposable income, and even jeopardizing public health.
With so much hanging in the balance, it’s concerning that Colorado’s setback proposals aren’t based on environmental science or public health. Fracking has consistently been proven a safe and effective means of producing energy. It’s been proven safe for groundwater and surface water, and most producers make use of recycled water to reduce impact on local water supply. Similarly, seismic activity is usually not caused by fracking and is rarely strong enough to be felt. Fracking actually supports a cleaner environment, since natural gas is a clean-burning fuel.
Some homeowners are naturally concerned about noise and traffic activity that could come with new oil and gas wells; however, local noise and traffic ordinances should be sufficient to address those concerns.
And the ramifications don’t stop at the borders of the Centennial State. As one of the top oil- and natural gas-producing states in the country, Colorado politicians’ choices will have far-reaching effects on the entire nation, and even the world.
The shale revolution in states like Colorado played a pivotal role in America becoming the world’s top energy producer earlier this year. The more energy harvested in Colorado, the cheaper and more efficiently it can get where it needs to go — and the less Coloradoans have to depend on importing oil and natural gas from other states, and paying more to do so.
During my time in the Texas Legislature, I would often applaud other states’ attempts to ban fracking and overregulate the energy industry, because I knew Texas would be happy to pick up the slack. In regulating oil and gas to death, Colorado only stands to send jobs, tax revenue, and economic opportunity to other states and nations. The Lone Star State might benefit in the short term, but Coloradoans will suffer.
But in the long term, killing Colorado’s energy industry would give the upper hand to foreign countries that don’t share our commitment to human rights, environmental quality, or freedom. Colorado’s role in America’s energy dominance means we have a stronger say in global negotiations and more power to tip the scales in favor of liberty and justice.
And producing energy right here in Colorado means it’s done with our country’s rigorous environmental protection standards, while oil and gas rivals like Saudi Arabia and Russia have lax air quality rules. Letting other countries regain their stranglehold on global energy markets would also mean more harmful pollution emitted into our environment.
The consequences of a shadow ban on Colorado’s oil and gas industry cannot be overstated. It’s easy to write off these changes as blips on quarterly reports mentioned in passing in the local news. But Colorado’s elected leaders would do well to remember the real human effects of the power they wield — and from whom that power came.
This commentary originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on November 16, 2020.