As a lawyer, engineer, and mother, I care deeply about education. I am far from alone, of course. Education is a daily kitchen-table issue for families, a critical focus for the business community, and a top-tier issue for our elected officials and public servants.
There is room for debate over the best ways to provide high-quality and affordable K-12 and higher education in Colorado. There are disagreements over how to pay for it. But this much is clear: We cannot afford to take existing sources of education funding for granted.
One of those funding sources is oil and natural gas production, and recent data from the Colorado Association of Mineral Royalty Owners helps illustrate the critical role it plays.
Colorado Association of Mineral Royalty Owners looked at a fraction of the state’s overall energy production — just the state-owned portions of the Wattenberg Field northeast of Denver. Since 1980, minerals leased by the Colorado State Land Board in the Wattenberg have generated more than $560 million in funding for K-12 public schools and higher ed, according to data obtained by the association.
In fact, in the last two years, $166 million has been generated from state-owned minerals in the Wattenberg for public education, reflecting higher production rates made possible by advanced and more efficient technologies.
To recap, that’s half a billion dollars for public education since 1980 from just the state-owned minerals beneath the Wattenberg field. Almost a third of that revenue was generated in the past two years.
Colorado Association of Mineral Royalty Owners requested the release of this data from the State Land Board in response to a ballot measure — Initiative 97 — that would effectively ban drilling across the Wattenberg field and most of the rest of the state, according to the Hickenlooper administration.
“Many teachers don’t realize how much education funding comes from oil and gas development,” said Cristy Koeneke, a retired educator and mineral owner from Arvada, who worked with the association on the release of the State Land Board data. “Our students are our future, and we cannot be so shortsighted about our future.”
Remember, the numbers released by the State Land Board only reflect a fraction of the public revenue from oil and natural gas development in Colorado, because most energy development in our state takes place on private land.
Taken together, energy development on public and private land generates more than $1 billion per year in state and local tax revenues in Colorado, including hundreds of millions of dollars for education, according to a 2015 study by the University of Colorado.
Can you imagine what public education in Colorado would look like without this tax revenue? Yet national groups like Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C., have spent years pushing measures like Initiative 97 that would take hundreds of millions of dollars a year out of our schools and universities.
Decimated school budgets would be just one of the impacts of Initiative 97. It would also wipe out more than 100,000 Colorado jobs and “have a devastating impact on our economy,” according to the REMI Partnership, a coalition of state business groups that conducted its analysis of the ballot measure.
Energy development truly supports every other sector of the Colorado economy, and for this reason, anti-oil and gas ballot measures have historically hit a wall of bipartisan opposition.
For example, here’s what former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D) — a strong environmentalist — said about anti-oil and gas ballot measures when they emerged in 2014: “Colorado has served as a model for the nation on finding the right balance between protecting our clean air and water, the health of our communities, and safely developing our abundant energy resources. In my view, these proposed ballot initiatives do not strike that balance.”
National anti-oil and gas groups don’t believe in balance. They would wreck school budgets and our economy just to score political points through measures such as Initiative 97. Please don’t support it.
Dana Svendsen is a workplace safety and employment attorney at Sherman & Howard and a former project engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers. She serves on the board of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state business leaders focused on energy policy.