Colorado’s business community defends energy sector, state economy against the far left

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If you mess with Colorado’s energy sector, you mess with the state’s entire business community. That’s the clear message of a new report on the anti-fracking agenda and how much it will cost Colorado’s job creators and working families.

The report studied the expected economic impacts of a proposed ballot measure – pushed by fringe national environmental groups – to dramatically expand no-drill zones around buildings and other “areas of special concern.” The findings on Initiative 78 are deeply troubling, to say the least.

More than 100,000 jobs and $14.5 billion in economic activity would be lost, according to the economic analysis, conducted by the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. It was commissioned by a coalition of business groups: The Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the Denver South Economic Development Partnership and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

icon_op_ed“The introduction of a 2,500-foot setback on oil and gas development activities would have a substantial effect on both Colorado’s oil and gas industry and the state economy as a whole,” the report concludes. “Results of the setback include prohibition of any oil and gas development on 90.2% of Colorado’s land.”

This echoes the earlier findings of Colorado state officials. In May, they determined the proposed 2,500-foot setback – a huge increase over the current standard of 500 feet – would create a drilling ban across 60 million acres. For scale, that’s about the same size as the United Kingdom, or roughly 90 percent of Colorado’s land mass. In the five Colorado counties where most of the state’s oil and gas production takes place, the impact would be even greater, with 95 percent of the land area subject to a drilling ban.

Why are these impacts so severe? Imagine a circle with a radius of 2,500 feet. The area inside that circle is roughly 450 acres – five times the size of Mile High Stadium and its parking lot. Thousands upon thousands of those overlapping 450-acre circles would be drawn around every occupied building and area of special concern, which the backers of Initiative 78 have very broadly defined to include things like intermittent streams, irrigation canals, riparian areas, sporting fields, parks and even open space. As maps released by Colorado state officials make clear, all these overlapping no-drill zones effectively become one giant no-drill zone covering almost the entire state. In other words, a statewide drilling ban.

State of Colorado setback initiative mapNo wonder, then, that the environmental groups gathering signatures for Initiative 78 – including Food & Water Watch, 350.org and Greenpeace – are all central players in the far-left “keep it in the ground” campaign. As the name implies, this campaign demands an immediate halt to the production and use of fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal – which provide the vast majority of the energy it takes to support our way of life.

Even the Obama administration, a huge supporter of renewable energy sources and a major critic of fossil fuels, has called the keep-it-in-the-ground campaign “unrealistic” and “naïve.” Democrats from organized labor, meanwhile, have much less patience for a campaign that “kills jobs, drives up energy costs, and threatens to strangle our economy.”

In other words, the far-left agenda behind Initiative 78 even makes card-carrying Democrats nervous. That helps explain why the business groups that commissioned the CU study on the proposed ballot measure are so concerned.

The groups behind Initiative 78 are staging “a full attack on an industry that has been historically vital to our state’s economy,” said Tom Clark, CEO of Metro Denver EDC. “This initiative, were it to pass, would usher in the probable demise of the oil and gas industry in Colorado.”

In addition to heavy job losses and broader economic damage, almost $11 billion in personal income would be lost as well, said CSPR Chairman Earl Wright. As a result, the campaign against the state’s energy sector “also could significantly reduce funding for education and infrastructure.” And Mike Fitzgerald, president and CEO of the Denver South EDP, warned: “Energy is the ‘oxygen’ that fuels Colorado’s economy.”

Indeed it is. If the anti-energy agenda becomes the law of the land in Colorado – via the ballot box or even through the state legislature – the damage to the energy sector will just be the beginning. Every business and every household will be impacted and the entire state economy will struggle.

These anti-energy ballot measures come from the outer fringes of the political spectrum. They have no place in state law – let alone the Colorado Constitution – so let’s make sure they stay where they belong.

Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at simon@i2i.org.

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