December 2018

Executive viewpoint

Colorado’s debate begins a national struggle: Your state could be next
Tracee Bentley / Colorado Petroleum Council

Colorado’s natural gas and oil industry should be a cause for celebration. The industry contributes over $31 billion in annual economic impact to the state’s economy, supporting 232,900 good-paying jobs in the process. In August, Colorado surpassed California in crude oil production for the first time. The American energy renaissance is real, and the Centennial State plays a leading role.

Prop 112 battle. That’s why it was so disheartening for our industry to have spent 2018 in an existential political battle—a likely test run for future state-level debates across America. A group of Boulder-based environmental activists, subsidized by big-money green interests in Washington, D.C., forced an initiative onto Colorado’s November ballot that, if passed, would have effectively ended new natural gas and oil development in the state.

Here’s the exact language of the measure, designated as Proposition 112, upon which Coloradans would be asked to vote yes or no:

Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a statewide minimum distance requirement for new oil and gas development, and, in connection therewith, changing existing distance requirements to require that any new oil and gas development be located at least 2,500 feet from any occupied structure and any area designated for additional protection, and authorizing the state or a local government to increase the minimum distance requirement?

Readers of this esteemed publication likely spotted the proposal’s red flags immediately. But ask Colorado’s general public, of whom a majority live in urban and suburban areas, far away from energy development. After all, what is 2,500 feet? That sounds safe, right?

Never mind that there was no scientific or public health study supporting such an arbitrary setback distance. Proposition 112 would have immediately eliminated 85% of Colorado’s non-federal land from energy production, a figure that rose to 94% in the state’s top-five producing counties. Lands surrounding dry creek beds, dozens of miles from human life or activity, would have been off-limits under a subjective classification as being “vulnerable.” And worse still, the measure would have provided local governments with broad discretion to further increase setbacks on a whim.

Effects avoided. This wasn’t a public safety measure. This was an attempted mass removal of one of Colorado’s largest economic drivers. A study conducted by the non-partisan Common Sense Policy Roundtable analyzed the impacts, if Proposition 112 were to pass and found that in the first 12 years following its implementation, Colorado stood to lose 147,800 jobs and $7-to-9 billion in local and state tax revenue. Fully 77% of the jobs lost would have come from outside the energy industry, crippling local economies across the state.

Proponents of Proposition 112 were undeterred by these chilling figures; if anything, they were inspired by them, but they certainly hoped the general public wouldn’t catch on. Despite supporters’ protestations that the measure was merely a check, rather than a ban, on energy development, their campaign’s lawyer, former Democratic State Representative Joe Salazar, laid bare the group’s true intentions at a sparsely-attended rally in October:

“The oil and gas industry needs to be looked at as an immoral industry … It has no business here in the state of Colorado. Our state will be fine without them.”

Compare that intellectually bankrupt assertion to Proposition 112’s ballot language, and you’ll see why this measure was a grave threat to Colorado. In August, around the same time that Proposition 112 qualified for the November ballot, industry polling found that the measure was poised to pass by roughly 20 percentage points. Absent an aggressive campaign to better inform voters, Coloradans were on track to unwittingly commit economic suicide.

Understanding that Proposition 112 was effectively a live-or-die moment, industry quickly mobilized. Tens of millions of dollars went into television, radio, digital, direct mail, and door-to-door canvassing, explaining the brutal upshot of Proposition 112 to the voting public. Communities across the state rose up and held rallies in support of the women and men who work in, or whose jobs and well-being are supported by, the industry. A group of over 50 bipartisan mayors formed a coalition in opposition to the measure (cleverly named MAP 112, or “Mayors Against Proposition 112”). Both gubernatorial candidates expressed their disfavor of the proposal.

The debate spread beyond Colorado’s borders. The Wall Street Journal highlighted Proposition 112’s calamitous effects in a late-September editorial, ending the piece with a forewarning: “If this proposition passes in Colorado, the same de facto bans on energy production will migrate to other states.”

By election day, we were fortunate that the tide had turned, as Proposition 112 failed by ten-and-a-half percentage points. Coloradans chose to side with their friends, family and neighbors over the malevolent wishes of Washington, D.C.-based environmental extremists.

While election night was a win for the natural gas and oil industry, time will tell if it was a lasting success. I suggest that you keep an eye on our diverse state in the coming months. The debate over our energy future is far from over, and our opponents have visions of exporting Colorado’s ongoing battle to other states. Yours could be next. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
Tracee Bentley
Colorado Petroleum Council
Tracee Bentley is Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Council (CPC), a statewide organization. Prior to joining the CPC in March 2015, Ms. Bentley served in several key positions, including legislative director & senior advisor on energy and agriculture, and deputy director of the Colorado Energy Office for Gov. John Hickenlooper. Prior to joining the Hickenlooper administration, she was a founding principal of a bi-partisan lobbying firm that focused on energy, natural resource and agriculture interests. Ms. Bentley also served as director of national affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University. Prior to receiving her bachelor’s degree, Ms. Bentley worked in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
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