Impose careful regulations for a clear economic benefit
By Nathan Fisk
Energy drilling is controversial and recently the Colorado Springs City Council (unfortunately) punted on the issue despite fervent arguments encouraging energy independence and economic benefit.
Opponents to “fracking” raise concerns including water safety, air purity, and quality of life. It is a mistake to pretend this is a Republican vs. Democrat issue; it’s complicated and truthfully — regardless of what the Sierra Club says — compromise and balance are likely the solution required.
The economic benefit to drilling for oil and gas is clear. According to a study cited by Kiplinger Finance, many wells “generate up to $4 million in economic benefits, including 62 jobs.” Consider the older or industrial areas of Colorado Springs; whether it’s the long neglected dog track near Nevada or the crumbling structures south of downtown, there are acres of vacant or under-utilized property. (It’s also notable that initial exploration would occur on federal or city-owned land.)
It’s a red herring to paint a scenario where swathes of Briargate, Rockrimmon, or Old Colorado City are industrialized with a sea of toxic chemicals. Rather, the proponents of in-city energy exploration propose limited development using technologies and chemicals that are safe and effective. Recently Colorado’s Gov. (John) Hickenlooper famously even drank a glass of fracking fluid to demonstrate its safety.
Historically Colorado Springs was home to top tier manufacturing jobs. Over the years, many of those primary employers (companies supporting secondary jobs) have been lost. Exploring in-city energy is an opportunity to demonstrate Colorado Springs’ strong workforce, bolstered by a social and technical infrastructure ready to support the lucrative energy industry.
When considering the energy-independence angle, it’s interesting that some of the strongest opponents to drilling for energy are the same individuals who advocate “buying local” and “farm to table” living to limit the environmental, social, and economic impacts of shipping seafood from Chile, vegetables from Mexico, and clothing from China. How incongruous, then, that they stake out a “not in my backyard” approach to energy development. Does Colorado lack the ingenuity to safely extract energy from the natural resources we own?
No one disputes that careful regulation is required. However, the science is clear. This drilling occurs thousands of feet away from aquifers and there are tens of thousands of successful wells across the United States. A recent Gazette article highlighted the safety record of 19,000 wells in Greeley. Less than half of one percent had problems, and of those, Greeley Mayor Tom Norton said none of the incidents caused significant contamination or damage. That’s a 20-plus year record worth noting.
There is significant economic benefit to in-city energy exploration. It should not be quickly discarded in favor of claims from opponents who do not comprehend the safety protocols protecting our water supply, air quality, and quality of life. Our city councilors and mayor should consider the economic impact, reverse the last council’s stance, and proceed in careful cooperation with the companies that want to explore and extract local energy.
Nathan Fisk is a business and political consultant. Contact the author via email: nfisk@IdeasForColorado.com.
Fracking doesn’t create local jobs, is costly and dangerous
By Laura Long
El Paso County sits atop the southern end of the Niobrara, a chalk and limestone formation created around 87 million years ago (or 6,000 years ago, depending on where you go to church). It holds perhaps a billion barrels of recoverable oil and natural gas, most of which is found in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. To be generous, we’ll say 10 percent, or 100 million barrels, lies underneath us.
The United States uses 19 million barrels of oil per day. Therefore the people of Colorado Springs could give our country the gift of energy independence for more than five whole days.
Then there are the jobs to consider. An extensive online job search turned up a solid handful of well-paying oil and gas jobs in Colorado, which is good news for all the unemployed mechanical and chemical engineers in town.
Don’t have an engineering degree? No worries, you could be a roughneck with duties such as “open and close valves” and “check fluids and top-off or replace as required,” though oil field experience is necessary. Hope you did your summer internship in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, we’d also be creating nice mid-level jobs for admin assistants, accountants, managers, etc. — but only at the corporate offices in Denver and Houston. Maybe those towns will send us a thank you note tucked inside a gas station gift mug.
The bottom line is, fracking doesn’t create local jobs. Someone will make money off of it, but it won’t be us.
What about royalties and tax income? In 2011, the city sold the mineral rights along with the land when they off-loaded Banning Lewis Ranch to Ultra Resources. Alas, no royalties for us, even if Ultra’s test well had been a gusher.
Likewise, while the state of Colorado imposes a “severance tax” (for separating a nonrenewable resource from the ground), the city does not, so Denver bureaucrats would get first crack at any tax revenue generated from our wells.
When one weighs these “benefits” against the costs associated with fracking — dangers of ground and surface water contamination, the risk of spills, and the release of methane and other volatile organic compounds into our fresh mountain air — it starts to sound like a losing proposition. As City Councilor-elect Jill Gaebler wrote during the campaign, “our community is rightly concerned about the environmental and health hazards associated with the ‘fracking’ process … problems [that] will not be fully known until long after those who are responsible have left the community.”
Moreover, fracking is obscenely water-intensive.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association estimates that their members will use 6.5 trillion gallons of water this year. Colorado is high desert; we don’t need water restrictions in April to tell us that water is at a premium. So why would we want to see frackers using Colorado’s most precious natural resource to produce something of marginal value?
Like the alchemy school dropout who finally figured out how to turn gold into lead, it seems we’re doing something wrong.
Laura Long is a PR professional and government relations specialist with two cute kids and half a cat. She lives in Colorado Springs.