Protect Colorado – Give me a break! (Yes on 112)

When we ride our bikes north and east of Boulder you can see the gas and oil pipelines an extraction points at regular intervals. But it’s nothing like Texas. Very, Very few oil derricks, certainly in and around Erie, CO there are a number of fracking pad sites, you can see them clearly from Colorado State Highway 52, in places.

But there is nothing like the density I expected given the prominence of the Oil and Gas industry in the state politics. Even when you drive out through north east Colorado, wells yes, but still surrounded by massive areas of open farmland.

So when you see TV ads and claims like this, you have to wonder.

from the Protect Colorado PAC web site.

“extreme out-of-state groups” > “thousands of jobs” > “devastate Colorado’s economy for years to come” – All pretty extreme. I wondered.

But I wonder no more. As always the great folks over at CPR News covered this is much detail, there are lots of in-depth articles on their website. I found the Colorado Wonders segment on the radio by Energy and Environment reporter Grace Hood and presented with Journalist and Presenter Ryan Warner.

You can hear them discuss it in full here. It’s the first 12-minutes or so. To save time, and as a form of notepad, here are my notes.

  • The two main political action committees involved are Protect Colorado(Oil and Gas PAC) and Colorado Rising(Environmental PAC) 
  • Protect Colorado is outspending Colorado Rising by 32-1.
  • Depending on how you look at the land affected it could put 85% off limits if Prop.112 passes, or it could put only 54% off limits due to increased setbacks.
  • The 85% number comes from looking at surface land available for well pads. Except, as anyone who has watched the fracking industry for the last 10-years knows. Drillers can now drill underground and then go horizontal for upto 3-miles. Yep, so your fracking site can be setback 2500 feet from schools, hospitals etc. but they can still drill upto 3-miles underground. Stunning.

So thats who is involved and some numbers to get you started More interesting though are the claims for the impact on the Colorado economy. Here again Grace and Ryan have you covered.

Oil and Gas Industry Impact in Colorado Overall

  • 2014, the peak of the oil and gas boom, Oil and Gas accounted for only 7% of Colorado’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • 2016, a low for oil and gas, Oil and Gas contributed just 3% of GDP.
  • 2018 looks to be about 5% of GDP, and is the average over 10-years.

This sort of contribution doesn’t even put the Oil and Gas Industries in the top-10 list in Colorado. So much for the devastating impact.

But I hear you say. Oil and Gas contributes so much more. What about taxes?

  • Severance taxes(what Oil and Gas pays) from 2012-2017 were between $4-million and $265-million. Sounds a lot, but is less than 1% of the State budget.
  • Compared to other States, like Alaska, where the severance taxes make up more than 50% of the State budget.

Why the variation and swing in both GDP and Taxes from Oil and Gas? Because it’s all dependant on the price of crude oil and gas. While the oil price has been slowly rising, it’s nowhere near the 2013 peak.

Grace Hood makes the point in her answers that the numbers don’t include oil and gas service workers and service industries. One of which would be the truck drivers who truck water out to fracking sites. Then there are the people directly employed by the Oil and Gas Industry, that must be big?

  • Employment State-wide is circa 29,000 or just 1% of the workforce in Colorado.

Who Wins?

The last note I took while listening to the CPR News item was the biggest impact would be felt in Weld County. You can take the link to find out a bit more about Weld County, but here are some notes I looked up from Wikipedia.

  • Weld County has an estimated population as of 2017 of 305,000.
  • Weld County is the richest agricultural county in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, and the fourth richest overall nationally.
  • For a relatively rich county, the median family income is just $49,569. So the money is going where?
  • There are just 76 people per square mile in Weld County, compared to some 450 people per square mile in Boulder County and even more dense in urban areas and cities.

So while it’s easy to see that Weld County, if as populace as Boulder County, would suffer real financial hardship, given the population density and size of Weld County, it’s hard to image that the setbacks will be a real inhibitor there. Unless of course they are all out of sites and places to drill already. 

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that you should VOTE YES on Prop.112. I can’t vote as a non-citizen. The TV Commercials by “Protect Colorado” are pure unadulterated fear mongering. Sure, families and workers will be impacted if 112 pases, but hey, they’ll be impacted if the oil prices head south again. The boom and bust of the Oil Industry has been going on for decades, the setbacks won’t change that.

Protect Colorado doesn’t have a leg to stand-on with their extreme claims. I know most people who live near me would be horrified to find that a well pad 2-3 miles away was drilling underneath them. The setbacks are well deserved for safety in urban and more populous areas than Weld County and the like.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

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