By DAVID KEYTE
It is always interesting to be a member of the oil and gas industry in Colorado. Our products — whether it is gasoline, clean-burning natural gas, or the myriad of everyday products that are made with oil and gas — are wanted and needed by 100% of people in our state. However, there is always a vocal minority who traffic in fear and paranoia who try their best to tear down our industry.
The Daily Sentinel recently published an Associated Press article that examined the topic of “orphaned” wells, or wells whose owners have declared bankruptcy or otherwise no longer exist. I am concerned that the national perspective in the article may have left a wildly misleading impression that some of the challenges other states experience are relevant to Colorado. That simply is not true.
The Associated Press article referenced “millions” of orphaned oil and gas wells nationally that need to be remediated. While I can’t speak to the situation in other states, the reality is that in Colorado we have fewer than 200 orphaned wells, according to the latest data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with regulating our industry.
The article also raised concerns about a lack of funding nationally to address orphaned wells. I can assure you that is not an issue here. Orphaned wells are remediated in Colorado and oil and gas companies — not taxpayers — are footing the bill. The COGCC has oversight of orphaned wells, and it has taken steps to ensure that the oil and gas industry fully funds a program — known as the Financial Assurance program — to cover the costs of remediating these orphan wells.
The COGCC levies a fee on oil and gas development to fund the program, and those levies have increased the annual revenue available to address orphaned wells from $445,000 in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 to approximately $5 million in Fiscal Year 2019-2020. Today’s annual funds are enough to remediate more than 60 orphaned wells each year. To be clear, the state’s orphaned well program is self-funded and does not receive revenue from Colorado’s General Fund.
Colorado regulatory agencies, with the support of our industry, have also made Colorado a national leader in oil and gas air monitoring. For example, industry employees in the field have personal monitoring devices attached to their clothing, and those monitors track exposures and concentrations. Similarly, fixed monitors at and around oil and natural gas sites are also used to measure exposure and concentration levels. Air quality measurements have been routinely taken near oil and natural gas sites in our state over the past decade, and no measurement attributable to our industry has been above EPA health guideline values, according to monitoring by the state, industry and third parties.
My co-workers and I — as well as the 100,000 other oil and gas industry workers across the state — are committed to making Colorado a better place. The fact is that Colorado has been a leader nationally in oil and gas regulation for more than a decade, and that is due in part to the support the effort receives from our state’s oil and gas industry. While Coloradans benefit from these environmental protections, they do not exist in many other parts of the world. I view it to be better to produce oil and gas here in Colorado under our strict environmental regulatory guidelines than import those same energy products from oppressive, foreign regimes that have poor human rights records and lack our environmental safeguards.
I live and raised my family in Colorado in the same community where I work. My family and I enjoy spending time in the mountains and on the Western Slope. Our employees live in many of the same communities you do, and we support many of the local businesses and nonprofit organizations that are important to you. We have just as much of an incentive as our neighbors to ensure that our work is done safely and in an environmentally friendly manner.
David H. Keyte is the chairman and CEO of Caerus Operating LLC, a natural gas producer with assets in western Colorado and eastern Utah. Caerus employs nearly 300 employees in its offices in Parachute, Colorado; Vernal, Utah; and Denver.