Horizontal drilling means we can access new oil and gas deposits while punching fewer holes in the ground, minimizing the surface “footprint” of energy operations. Fracturing subsurface shale deposits by injecting a pressurized mix of water, sand and lubricating chemicals helps recover vast new storehouses of hydrocarbons what were locked-away in solid rock until now. Together, these safe and exciting new technologies are turning America into an energy superpower, rather than the energy basket case it seemed not too long ago.
But with this energy revolution has come controversy, and resistance, from a minority of noisy extremists who view the new breakthroughs as another threat to their ideological goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether. Unfortunately, Colorado has become ground zero in a battle between those who recognize the incredible economic and social benefits that accompany this domestic energy boom, and those who want to snuff it in its cradle by scaring Coloradans into approving wholesale or piecemeal bans.
A lot is riding on how this debate unfolds, not just for Colorado but for the entire country, since anti-fracking hysteria, if it scores a “win” here, may spread to other states. That’s why we Coloradans need to take a clear-headed, objective look at the pros and cons.
The pros of being receptive to responsible energy development are huge — and obvious to anyone who reviews the data. Energy-welcoming states are much better off, economically and fiscally, than states that slam the door. Domestic energy generates good jobs and fills government coffers with tax and royalty revenues. More than 111,000 Coloradans work directly in oil- or gas-related jobs, for instance, and this generates thousands of other jobs (in real estate, the service industry, construction, law, etc.) in ripple-effect fashion.
Proposed fracking bans put an estimated 93,000 Colorado jobs, and $12 billion in gross domestic product, at risk, according to research done by the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Moreover, fracking bans could cost Colorado towns and cities $275 million in severance taxes next year alone, according to economists. The Department of Labor reports that 52 Loveland-area companies, and 497 jobs, are directly related to oil and gas operations. These jobs pay an average wage of $75,232, which sure beats scooping ice cream for a living.
But the benefits are broader than just the state or local bottom line. Energy costs are reduced, and energy security is improved, by safely tapping into a reliable supply of environmentally-friendly energy that’s right under our feet. The abundance of cleaner, lower-cost fuel has many secondary benefits, from reviving the manufacturing sector to shrinking the country’s “carbon footprint” (for those who fret about such abstractions). Yet one wouldn’t know any of this — and might even conclude that fracking is a curse – if one listens to critics.
These self-styled “fracktivists” ignore the positives and exaggerate the alleged risks associated with fracking, though there’s scant evidence supporting all such claims. They fear the shale gas revolution will hasten the demise of the planet, through climate change, yet America’s carbon emissions have dramatically been falling thanks to a national shift to relatively low-carbon natural gas. They play on our emotions, rather than our reason, by connecting fracking to all sorts of alleged dangers that science just doesn’t support.
Most reasonable people recognize that we don’t live in the risk or trade-off free world. They know that any technology, if mismanaged, carries some risks, which must be weighed against the potential benefits before determining how to proceed. Oil and gas drilling already is heavily regulated at all levels of government. And good old American innovation and ingenuity ensures that these technologies will continue to become even more safe, efficient and low-impact in the years ahead.
When weighed on the cost-benefit scale, it’s not even close: Colorado’s continued embrace of responsible energy development would be a huge win for the state, which carries minimal risks that can easily be managed with existing regulations in place.
Let’s not let Colorado’s economic and energy security to be undermined by a noisy gaggle of green extremists.
Dustin Zvonek is the state director for Americans for Prosperity Colorado.