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December 25, 2015 09:23 PM UTC

Scrooge Learned His Lesson - Will Colorado Oil and Gas Industry?

  • by: PKolbenschlag

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Mural depicts oil and gas workers putting the finishing touches on a “Christmas Tree.”

The response by the bevy of Colorado oil and gas astroturf groups to a recent spate of ballot measures filed with the Colorado Secretary of State to restrict how development occurs in certain jurisdictions has been the predictable Chicken Little hyperbole spiced with a little bit of Christmas.

According to former Denver Post editor cum oil and gas spox Dan Haley the measures are “the ghosts of Christmas Past” that would “…take the state backward.”

Peter Moore, former Denver Post columnist cum oil and gas spox, said:

“All of these extreme proposals fall into the naughty category, which will prevent access to our own energy that will cripple family budgets and jeopardize our economy,”

Meanwhile one-time Denver Post journalist cum oil and gas spox Karen Crummy said:

“These measures are so radical they would kill jobs, ignore established laws, devastate Colorado’s economy…”

But it is the reportage by veteran Denver Business Journal reporter Cathy Proctor (and carried by 9News) that should cause Coloradans pause. At least for those who are paying attention.

If approved by voters, the proposed measures would make it extremely difficult for energy companies to find locations to drill new oil and gas wells in Colorado.

This declarative statement, not a quote from an oil and gas lobby communication director or fracking flunkey, is notable for several reasons. First it is simply incorrect. Second it is a revealing tell.

Most of the measures are setbacks, from sensitive lands and occupied communities. One measure would allow local jurisdictions to decide what industrial uses are appropriate in their towns. Another measure would ban fracking but not on federal lands (millions of acres of which are either already leased or available for oil and gas leasing).

A fracking ban that doesn’t apply to federal or Indian lands, limited local control, and setbacks all still mean that hundreds of thousands of acres of lands already leased and millions of acres available for leasing are unlikely to be impacted by the measures should they make the ballot and pass.

Thus it is simply nonsense to suggest that operators would suddenly run out of new places to put a drill rig should setbacks, or ‘local control,’ or even a limited ‘fracking ban’ be enacted by We the People of Colorado. There is really no other way to put it.

It is pretty clear that the powers that be, bipartisan even, are troubled about giving citizens the reins of government when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Natural Gas Intelligence-Shale Daily reports:

Industry and state government officials have been nervous about grassroots efforts to place measures on the statewide ballot that undercut or directly conflict with the growing state regulations for oil and gas that are enforced by the Colorado Oil/Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper set up a task force to look at local oil/gas control issues that were spawning a ballot measure war (see Shale DailySept. 9, 2014).

Hickenlooper pieced together a political compromise to avoid a statewide ballot measure fight that fall, naming a local elected county commissioner and an industry senior executive as co-chairs of the effort.

But in order for these measures to make it “extremely difficult” to find new places to drill, jurisdictions across the state—from Moffat and Mesa and Rio Blanco and Garfield Counties on the Western Slope to Weld County on the Plains—would have to first take the position that the activity were not allowed and then the federal government, which administers the minerals on public lands, would have to acquiesce despite the measures specifically not applying to those lands.

Battlement Mesa–built by Exxon in the 1970s to house oil shale workers–was marketed as an ideal retirement community after the “Black Sunday” bust. The oil and gas company kept the mineral rights even as it advertised the real estate as the “Colorado Dream.” Drilling inside the community, recently backed by the industry friendly Garfield BoCC has turned some residents’ golden years into a nightmare.

Oil and gas development is an industrial impactful activity that is dangerous and involves both toxic inputs and noxious emissionsSpills occur. Accidents happenHeavy truck traffic is a given, as are flaring, fumes, and—with some probability—failures: of casings, equipment, humans.

One only need read about the battle at Battlement Mesa, or statements from county commissioners in Boulder, La Plata, Pitkin, and elsewhere to understand that there are—in fact—plenty of salt-of-the-earth Coloradans and their duly elected leaders that agree local communities need more say.

Still the industry continues to portray the effort to bring balance to this activity as out of step with Colorado. Vital for Colorado spox Peter Moore says of the measures that they: “represent the most extreme factions of the environmental movement.”

Again this is nonsense. Offensive even in its arrogant dismissiveness. But it is telling. Of course citizens ought to have a more robust means to regulate this activity in our midst. Petitioning our government, including that “closest to the people,” is the first line of action. Rather than dismissed, diminished and denigrated, it ought to be encouraged.

So why is the industry–if it brings such benefit to the state, a benefit that only “extremists” and “out of state” interests fail to see–so fearful of allowing common-sense Coloradans the right to determine our own fate, affect our own policy, be represented by our own governments?

Misinformation, whether from lazy reportage or devious design, does democracy a disservice. And while it may seem a worthwhile tactic it remains to be seen if it is a viable strategy. After the failure of the Governor’s Task Force to adequately address underlying issues proponents this time are unlikely to back down. Instead Coloradans are ready to take matters into our own hands.

Rather than the fault of those he has spent a lifetime disparaging, Scrooge finally wises up that it is he who needs to change in order to find his way to a better future.

In Charles Dickens classic Yuletide tale “A Christmas Carol” the spirits that visit the protagonist are not villains.

Rather the ghosts come as the clock strikes to teach Mr. Scrooge that he needs to change his ways.

Whatever the political repercussions of these measures on the 2016 ballot, just as with the unpleasant future Scrooge faces, the situation is very much of the industry and its enablers own making.

Reaching for Christmas analogies while repeating the same tired rhetoric should send the journalists and spokespeople carrying the industry’s message back to bed. Because the clock is about to toll again.


19 thoughts on “Scrooge Learned His Lesson – Will Colorado Oil and Gas Industry?

  1. Thanks for a typically well wrought and important diary regarding Colorados' energy future, PK. 

    As you suggest, the clock is about strike 12:01 AM on the next opportunity for the wholesale exploitation of a critically valuable resource for the short term profit of a small sector of our society. Undoubtedly, there are those who will challenge that assertion, they always do. It has been the age-old modus operandi of the well-heeled to exploit the less advantaged by using misinformation and distraction…witness the conquest of North America, as an example.

    To a less violent but no less determined degree, industry today is as ruthless and intent on "winning" and "taking" as it ever was. They now face a slightly different set of circumstances. The money bag is tightening just at the beginning of the election season and the Colorado legislative session is about to begin…

    I had held out the slimmest of hopes that compromise was possible

    Nope…ain't gonna happen. But in this, PK,

    allowing common-sense Coloradans the right to determine our own fate, affect our own policy, be represented by our own governments? 

    some of us are a bit conflicted.

    Most Colorado residents still do not understand the degree to which the Colorado government has been subverted by the oil and gas industry..

    Not much is going to change as long as John Hickenlooper is governor and the legislature is controlled by Republicans and Blue Dogs…but, in my mind, the most important thing we, in the gas patch, can do is oust every Republican county commissioner in the state. The oil and gas industry owns the governments in the counties where it does business ( I will wait patiently for one of our Republican stalwarts to refute that statement), and giving authority to those vandals may be a case of being careful for what you wish..

    In any event…I am now fully in the Fracktivist camp.

    1. My point is two-fold, Duke. 1) It is revealing that the lobbyists have to spin so much dissembled nonsense, as it makes them appear to be afraid of having an honest discussion.  If the benefit of this activity is so obvious, it seems they would want, rather, to sing the truth of it from the hill tops rather than obfuscate, dodge and blame another.

      2) Until such a time that reality can inform this conversation rather than the corporate-bought oil and gas paid-for BS, those lobbyists can expect the issue to come back again and again and again.  Groundhog's Day is coming soon.

      I don't consider myself a 'frackitivist' (I think the issue is much much much broader than fracking), just a gadfly.  




      1. I think the issue is much much much broader than fracking 

        of course, it is.. 

        and I was just making a position statement..smiley

        In the context of the initiatives now on the table, the industry lobbyists blew their chance when they wiped their butt with the Governors' blue ribbon…

        they now deserve whatever comes of the initiative process…

    2. Me too Duke.  I'm all in with the Fractivist camp.  I was talking to a lady who works at the hospital here and she said they have numerous young people who have been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and have never smoked in their life.  This should give us all cause to think about the environment and what is causing this.

      1. The devastation wrought upon human bodies by the extraction of oil and gas from the ground is terrible to behold…I watched Chris Mobaldi die a slow and painful death as a result of ( her physicians believed, but could not prove) living across the road from a poorly maintained gas well. Meeting and getting to know Chris was, I believe, one of the events that firmed the resolve of Governor Bill Ritter to stand up to the oil and gas industry.

        Whether it is workplace danger or "collateral damage" to innocent bystanders, the gas patch is an unsafe place…for everyone.

  2. Ms. Proctor's statement in her article is correct when applied to the oil fields in northeast Colorado, especially Weld County. In that geographic area, a 4,000 foot setback or, for that matter a 2,000 foot one, will make it next to impossible for an oil and gas company to find an area where they can drill because the setback definition usually includes buildings that are of just about any type, not just homes. Both sides in this debate need to be honest and one of the primary goals of the proponents is to shutdown the oil and gas industry in northeast Colorado. The proposed setbacks will do just that. 

    1. That is not what she wrote. She wrote in Colorado. It is an incorrect statement and reinforces my point about the hyperbolic Chicken Little nonsense pushed by the oil and gas lobby. Weld County =/= Colorado.


      1. You missed my point. Certainly her statement applies to all of Colorado as you mentioned in your reply. However, when applied to the oil fields north of Denver, especially Weld County, most of the drilling would be illegal under the setback proposals because the definition of building or structure apples to any kind of building. About 90% of the leased land in that area of our state could not be drilled.

        1. Here's my understanding about drilling in Weld County:

          It used to be cheap and relatively easy to drill anywhere in Weld County. Now, people are pushing back, the price of LNG is lower, and renewables are competitive. All of these are conspiring to make it much more expensive to drill the way they used to do. They need to change and spend more money, hence make less profit, if they want to survive. But we as a public do not really need all of the oil and gas companies to survive. Probably, we need to work more on a transition to renewables. But we do NOT need to sacrifice community health so that drilling can remain profitable.

          There is a much lower profit margin on natural gas: This quote from Murtaugh on Bloomberg: "Nobody really is making money from LNG (liquid natural gas) now."

            Renewables are now at cost parity, or coming in even cheaper than fossil fuels

          Here's a map for you, S-cat. It shows all of the current and proposed well drilling programs in Greeley, Colorado, a medium-small town in Weld County with a very high child poverty rate. Here's another one. You tell me – is Weld County overdrilled?

          Companies historically had very short setbacks (<500 ft) from a public school, hospital, marketplace or other building in the Greeley area (South Greeley directional wells). Hence, we have fracking going on next to Greeley Central and Northridge High School, 650 feet away from UNC family housing, etc.

          We had proposed fracking next to Frontier Elementary. They withdrew the proposal under the threat of massive bad publicity and lawsuits.

          We had fracking proposed next to an assisted living center. (Gilbert Wells) All of these were vigorously fought by the community – because there were and are real health effects – breathing problems from methane emissions. Then there's tank fires, earthquakes, etc. Fun stuff…not.

          Proctor's post should have said, " It will be much more expensive for companies to drill close to housing and schools. They can still reach the gas they want to reach, but they will need a much longer horizontal drill underground. This will put it out of reach of many of the small companies, leaving only the larger companies able to access financing to make the projects happen."

          But that would be telling the truth. The "invisible hand" of the free market economy is not weighted towards truth and facts. The oil and gas industry has an 800 pound thumb on the fossil fuel side of the scale, and all of the articles cited above are that thumb pressing, pressing, trying to help oil and gas drillers remain profitable against all the forces lining up against that.

          There is no public incentive to help the industry, in spite of all the propaganda. A recent Greeley Tribune poll found that 70% of people did NOT want more wells drilled in Greeley. So the propaganda is losing its punch.


    2. Is that true?  Certainly in some highly developed areas, but I think that the authors of the initiative would suggest that's exactly where we shouldn't be drilling.

      Most of Weld County is rural, and the language last time allowed "a landowner to waive the setback requirement for any structure located on the owner’s property."  It seems to me that leaves plenty of room to drill.  Of course, it will cost more since the companies will have to use more remote locations to drill.  But that's not an unreasonable trade-off.

        1. I think that's what I'm asking.  Are the deposits only under these heavily populated areas, or is that simply where it's convenient/cheaper to drill?  I recall reading a story where the wells were close to homes simply because the landowner who allowed the drilling wanted the wells there.  That doesn't seem like a reasonable compromise.  Ah, here it is.

          I guess what I'm looking to understand and don't have any source of information for is:

          (1) What percentage of accessible deposits are only available if access is undertaken from within 2,000 feet of homes/offices of owners unwilling to be near an operation?

          (2) Why is it more important to exploit this portion of accessible resources than to preserve the property rights of home and business owners affected (noise, vibration, smell, heavy truck traffic, etc.)?

          Point me to a map.  If the answer is 90%, I get that.  If it's 10%, I think I'm willing to decide that the opposite set of rights than we've previously favored should be.  If the answer is it lowers our profits to drill elsewhere, well, fuck 'em.

          The problem is I'm not seeing anything other than the arguments of people who have a vested interest in the status quo and a track record that trends less toward honesty than is desirable to indicate this is a problem.


  3. If the legislature would do its job then citizens would be less likely to seek the more blunt tools of an initiative. It is the intransigence of the oil and gas lobby that put Colorado in this situation.  They fight most any new regulations, then brag about how awesome they are once forced into them as if things such as disclosure and methane rules were their own ideas. 


  4. What I found so disturbing about this post is the number of influential ex Denver Post editors or reporters who turned out to be shills for right wing interests.  So much for the 'liberal media' meme in Colorado. No doubt Vincent Carroll et al will follow in their slimy footprints.

    1. That caught my attention, too, G.G. Are there any former D.P. or R.M.N employees who haven't become P.R. flacks for some odious special interest group? Well, to answer my own question, in part, there is Kevin Flynn who now sits on the Denver City Council.

      But it’s disturbing to me how many of them slid right into government jobs when their former job (theoretically) was to keep those other civil servants honest.

      1. Sure there are, the problem is that many of them aren't writing — it's those that do shill that get the attention, unfortunately, it's what they're paid to do. 

        As for names, I can think of several, but I'll just toss out "Littwin" for now, possibly the currently best known/remembered of the good guys. 

  5. If the legislature would do its job then citizens would be less likely to seek the more blunt tools of an initiative. It is the intransigence of the oil and gas lobby that put Colorado in this situation.  They fight most any new regulations, then brag about how awesome they are once forced into them as if disclosure and methane rules were their own ideas. 


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