Published: March 23, 2014
A report last week from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that Colorado's labor force participation rate fell 5.7 percentage points from 2007 to 2013. This parallels a similar national decline: America hasn't had such a large percentage of able bodied men and women drop out of the workforce since Jimmy Carter was president.
Tens of thousands more Colorado workers will lose their jobs and give up if a new activist organization has its way - and they will need your signature to make it happen.
A natural gas boom feeding $30 billion and more than 110,000 well-paying jobs into the Colorado economy has kept the state's unemployment rate below the national average. New discoveries of natural gas in 32 states and widespread use of an old technology - hydraulic fracturing - is at the heart of a national energy boom breathing life into an otherwise anemic American economy.
Called "fracking" by opponents, hydraulic fracturing has been declared safe by every relevant state and federal agency, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Department of Energy to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
The technology even has broad bipartisan support: Key Democrats like Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. John Hickenlooper back safe use of the technology.
Colorado state authorities have traditionally imposed some of the strongest hydraulic fracturing regulations in the country. Before being issued drilling permits, companies must provide baseline water testing results and submit emergency response plans and studies that show the transportation impact of vehicles serving well sites. Active and inactive wells must be supervised by16 full-time inspectors and 20 others who monitor the wellheads.
The state legislature is expected to approve even more inspectors and regulators are always tightening controls. In late February, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved a new set of rules to curb pollution and methane leaks - the first direct state control of methane emissions in the country. But a small group of anti-energy activists don't think setting the national standard for oil and gas regulation is enough. Local Control Colorado, backed by national organizations out to ban hydraulic fracturing, presented ballot language to the Colorado Legislative Council last month that would effectively end the boom here.
A statewide voter referendum is their only choice, because they cannot get hydraulic fracturing banned on the merits of their arguments.
Unable to persuade state officials to ban the practice, activists set their sites on banning hydraulic fracturing locally. When they convinced four Front Range communities to pass "anti-fracking" laws last November, state and industry lawyers sued to overturn the measures. The Colorado Supreme Court nullified similar laws in the past; experts don't expect the new laws to stand up to a state Constitutional challenge.
If Local Control Colorado's ballot language is approved - and if they then collect the 86,000 voter signatures required - then the statewide ballot this November will include a proposed change to the state constitution that would put oil and gas development under local government control.
If the amendment passes, a flurry of dozens of drilling bans will pass local councils within weeks. This will force oil and gas companies to immediately consider the new and significant regulatory uncertainty, and move their operations to friendlier states.
Some of those 100,000 jobs will disappear quickly; many will follow.
Colorado's unemployment rate will soon begin to tick up. Within a year, maybe two, the state will look more like New York, ranked as the worst state in the nation for business. They sit on a huge shale play and don't allow hydraulic fracturing at all.
Hydraulic fracturing poses reasonable and manageable risks, like building skyscrapers and cars and computers. Driving the oil and gas industry out of the state would cause economic crisis - a risk Colorado cannot take.
Today, energy independence and world supply are among America's greatest national security challenges. National policy changes and new delivery technologies will soon transform America - recently ranked the largest energy-producing nation in the world due to "fracking" - into the greatest energy exporter on the planet.
Or not: A small but noisy group of activists wants Colorado to opt out and push the well-paid jobs and prosperity to dozens of other states.
Remember that when Local Control Colorado comes to your door and asks for your signature. Because there, on your front porch and on the bottom line, it's about jobs.
Alfredo Ortiz is president of the national Job Creators Network, a national business advocacy organization.