Hey kids! Just how gullible does the Colorado natural gas industry think we are?
At a meeting in Grand Junction last month, industry folks opposed to new oil and gas drilling rules implied that more-expensive natural gas would hit consumers hard at the pump, where we’re already paying record prices for gasoline.
Huh? Gasoline is refined from crude oil and shipped by tanker to your gas station. Natural gas comes out of the ground (in its natural, gaseous state) and is piped as far as Ohio and California to run water heaters and cooking ranges and heat homes in winter. The two fuels – and their market prices – have nothing to do with one another.
But, what the heck. Strict veracity has never been a hallmark of the booming West Slope extraction industry. And the price of gasoline is a hot topic these days, so why not push the fear button and conflate the two?
At a public hearing to consider draft regulations by the newly restructured Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the gas bros went all out in the let’s-make-up-the-facts-as-we-go department.
First, they packed the house at Two Rivers Convention Center, busing 2,000 industry employees to the hearing from as far away as Trinidad – and paying them to attend. Then the disinformation began.
The biggest myth of all was that the new COGCC rules, still in draft form and mandated by the state legislature, are designed to shut the industry down. One more piece of oppressive government regulation, the flacks testified, and we’ll be forced to take our rigs and go elsewhere.
The truth, of course, is that the industry is going nowhere. Colorado is where the gas is. The companies – British Petroleum, EnCana, Halliburton, et al. – have invested here. They are making enormous profits. They can afford to use best practices and technologies to protect our air and drinking water and wildlife habitat. They’d just rather not.
Myth number two: The new regulations will cost Colorado some 70,000 good-paying jobs. Actually, the industry directly employs more like 7,000 people. And (see above) they are not going anywhere. A typical gas well in Garfield (Rifle) and La Plata (Durango) counties pays for itself in the first eight months of operation. That same well can be counted on to generate at least $10 million in profit over its lifetime. There are currently something like 36,000 gas wells in Colorado, and that number is expected to double in the next few years.
Myth number three: Draft rules will require the industry to “shut down” for three months of the year to protect wildlife. This point was hammered over and over again by speakers in Grand Junction. How can any industry put up with a rule that effectively limits operations to three-quarters of the calendar year?
In fact, it was a lie. A complete fabrication. There is no three-month “moratorium” in the draft rules. Only the admonition that drillers avoid previously identified, critical wildlife areas such as elk calving grounds during the one month a year (typically May 15-June 15) the animals are giving birth. The rules ask only that the industry get together with the Division of Wildlife and work out appropriate protections/mitigations for these areas.
Myth number four: The industry is already so over-regulated, so watchdogged, there are virtually no deleterious impacts on Coloradans. In other words, the industry is already doing everything it can to be good citizens. When, in fact, under the “drill now, pay later” policies of the Cheney administration and the negligible oversight of the previous oil and gas commission, people have been getting sick, the air stinks, gas is getting into irrigation ditches and water wells, and proprietary (and carcinogenic) frac’ing chemicals go completely unregulated.
The industry can do better. The new rules would require it to protect public water supplies. Rigs would have to move farther away from houses (current rules allow pads as close as 150 feet). Reclamation of disturbed land would be more enforceable. And critical wildlife areas would need to be respected. This is not too much to ask.
Every public versus private, health-and-welfare versus profit-motive struggle in America goes through a process of debate and negotiation. This is happening now with oil and gas in Colorado. Nobody (well almost nobody) wants the industry to disappear. The resource has undeniable value and national significance. Developing the resource brings jobs and wealth. The industry says it can extract the minerals without harming either the people or the environment we cherish.
We need to hold them to that promise. The roughnecks’ lies and fear-mongering are not moving the process in a helpful direction.