Balancing energy and the environment

These aren’t good times for the oil and gas industry. That might mean tougher times are ahead for western Colorado.

Energy prices have plummeted across the board in the last six months in keeping with the economic crisis affecting us all.

The price of natural gas sat at the top of an historic peak in June and July of this year. The price of 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas was 70 percent over the previous year. News reports were filled with the thousands of permits expected for more drilling and exploration projects next year. Jobs were being created.

Now, December prices are lower than they have been in years and the news is filled with large pullbacks in the energy sector. The latest news is that EnCana will operate about half as many drill rigs in the area next year as it averaged this year, and it will slash capital spending.

Until very recently, the energy industry was the most vibrant and fastest growing sector in western Colorado. That’s what kept our economy somewhat shielded from the recession that keeps digging its teeth deeper and deeper into the economy. If things don’t improve, it could mean a significant hit to our economy.

It makes you want to throw your arm around the oil and gas guys and give them a little encouragement. The problem is they don’t make it easy.

As they quietly pull back and slow down their operations, they blame many of their woes on the state of Colorado and the recent regulations approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the “environmentalists” and the general public that they think just doesn’t get it. Some spokespeople say that the industry is “leaving” the state because these rules will make Colorado “the most onerous state in the nation” to do business. In fact, representatives of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association told The Daily Sentinel yesterday that Colorado was already the most onerous state in the nation — even before the regulations were written.

So, here we are, lamenting the bad days for the 800-pound gorilla of our economy. The problem is, the gorilla doesn’t seem to be interested in our concern.

We have always believed that as consumers, we have created a huge demand for energy.

Coincidentally, some of the largest global reserves of it are right in our backyard. We should encourage industry experts to go get it, but they should understand our hope that they do it in a way that is environmentally sound and makes those of us who live here comfortable.

Since the beginning of the process to craft such regulations, representatives of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and other industry spokespeople have said it’s unfair, it’s onerous, they have not been part of the process, etc., etc. Yet, to date we have heard no alternative ideas other than leaving regulations just as they are.

When a large glacier of frozen sludge is hanging in the air above Parachute Creek, and the folks downstream want to know what it is, someone should tell them before it melts. Even these latest regulations still don’t require companies to divulge the contents of their spills to the public, only to health officials. But they say they’re pulling back anyway.

We believe that when the economy improves and a healthy demand for energy returns, Colorado will still be — as it is now — one of the best states in the nation to extract energy.

We just hope that the industry doesn’t continue to claim they are the victims of a state that doesn’t care for them. We do care, just like we care for our animals and our streams.

Let’s work together. The latest regulations allow environmentally sound, year-round activity in more places than previous drafts and we support that. We also ask our legislators to support the energy industry if they offer reasonable alternative solutions.


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