THE shale revolution of the past several years has transformed the U.S. energy industry, creating good-paying jobs, driving up exports of oil and natural gas, and curbing the country’s demand for energy imports. These are good things, unless you’re an environmental activist.
To those forces, development of oil and gas is an evil that must be destroyed, and they work relentlessly to do exactly that. California and Colorado offer two recent examples.
Protests are planned this week at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco by environmentalists who want limits on fossil fuel development. They hope to persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to use his executive power to limit oil wells within 2,500 feet of schools and homes.
“The world needs to know that while Governor Brown has talked out against climate change, he has permitted 20,000 oil wells,” the liberal group Consumer Watchdog says. The organization has paid for a 30-second TV spot featuring a 9-year-old girl who asks, “Governor Brown, how could you be so cruel and heartless?”
While one would expect to see such an effort in progressive San Fran, an effort underway in Colorado, the nation’s seventh-largest oil-producing state, is disconcerting.
There, backers of a proposal to expand to 2,500 feet the buffer zone required between energy wells and homes and schools have collected the signatures needed to place the question before voters in November. The current buffer is 500 feet from buildings and 350 feet from recreational areas such as playgrounds.
The requirements in Initiative 97 also would apply to lakes, streams, parks, green space and several other “vulnerable areas.” A study by state regulators said the 2,500-foot setback would make drilling off-limits on 85 percent of the state’s nonfederal land. Colorado’s five top-producing counties would be especially hard hit.
This in a state where the energy business is thriving — it produced 450,000 barrels a day of crude oil in April, a record for Colorado, and a near-record 149 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
In practice, Initiative 97 “is a ban. It’s to drive you out of the state,” an executive with Noble Energy told The Wall Street Journal. The head of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association put it this way to The Denver Post: “You’d basically have no new wells drilled in Colorado.”
Groups leading Initiative 97 say those claims are overblown, that federal land would be exempt from the buffers and that horizontal wells would allow for access to reserves regardless of whether the property above them is off-limits.
Yet it seems clear the impact would be considerable. A report produced by a coalition of Colorado business groups said approval of Initiative 97 would have “a devastating impact on our economy,” reducing state and local tax revenue by $201 million to $258 million in the first year and resulting in 33,500 to 43,000 lost jobs.
Similar initiatives didn’t get to voters in 2014 and 2016. But a fatal accident last year north of Denver, in which two men were killed in a home explosion linked to an abandoned gas line, gave activists a push that may have helped in this latest effort.
Whether it succeeds is unknown. That it’s in play is a distressing sign of the times.
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