Opinion

By backing anti-oil-and-gas initiative, Dems send chilling message to Coloradans

Author: Hugh McKean - August 6, 2018 - Updated: August 6, 2018

4MONDAYMcKeanOpEdMug-e1533530305603.jpg
Hugh Mckean

At first glance, hearing that Colorado’s Democratic Party State Executive and Central Committee recently voted in resounding favor to support the oil-and-gas-killing Initiative 97 was not surprising. But as I thought more about the message this endorsement sends to all of Colorado I became increasingly frustrated by the news. I understand that there is an activist wing that has been vocally opposed to the oil and gas industry, and while I challenge any activist supporting this initiative to explain how Colorado’s economy, and more importantly Colorado’s K-12 schools, could adjust to billions in lost revenue if this industry was forced out of the state, I never expected the state Democratic Party to officially endorse this economically-crippling position. I am shocked and deeply concerned about what this means for Colorado.

Initiative 97 would mandate that new oil and gas development, including fracking, be a minimum distance of 2,500 feet from occupied buildings, as well as public parks, public open space, irrigation canals, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams and any additional vulnerable areas designated by the state or a local government. Gov. John Hickenlooper recently said that this initiative could eliminate 90% of oil and gas activity in eastern Colorado and only slightly less than that in western Colorado.

Make no mistake about it, eliminating approximately 90% of the drillable land in Colorado would destroy the oil and gas industry – and the backers of this initiative are well aware of this. While the activists have no plan for 100,000 people who could lose their jobs or the $1 billion of annual tax revenue that could be eliminated by this farcical idea, it is hard to believe that the state Democratic Party is willing to accept this extraordinary amount of collateral damage.

The stark reality now is that regardless of whether Initiative 97 passes in November or even qualifies for the ballot, the endorsement of this proposal suggests Democrats will continue to pursue a 2,500 foot policy in future elections, in the legislature or potentially through executive order depending on who wins the gubernatorial race. In simple terms, mainstream Democrats just told this invaluable industry that it’s no longer welcome in Colorado.

Oil and gas development requires tremendous up-front investment, but what company will be willing to invest in Colorado if they’ll constantly be defending their ability to operate in this state. What message does this endorsement send to the engineer, geologist, field operator, project manager or sales representative who is considering a relocation to Colorado to work in this industry? What student will want to pursue an education in this field if there is little hope of working in this wonderful state?

Perhaps worst of all, what message does this send to every Colorado school that is already coping with a challenging budget?  We can’t expect superintendents to forecast growth in their district if at any time a 2,500 foot setback policy could decimate their budget. Earlier this year hundreds of Colorado teachers came to the capitol to protest their low salaries, and I don’t blame them. Yet their concerns today will pale in comparison if billions must be cut from state education to counter balance the revenue lost from oil and gas activity.

This endorsement is deeply troubling and I hope every Democrat who supports an all-of-the above energy platform in Colorado outwardly rejects Initiative 97. Even for those on the left who don’t want to embrace Colorado’s vast natural resources, I hope they would join me in condemning the state Democratic Party for compromising Colorado’s financial stability. Colorado already has some of the strictest oil and gas regulations in the country, and tremendous cooperation from industry to operate safely and responsibly near sensitive and vulnerable parts of our state. With as much as Initiative 97 is reckless, dangerous and completely unnecessary, supporting it is just as bad for Colorado, and every citizen should be alarmed.

Hugh McKean

Hugh McKean

Hugh Mckean, a Loveland Republican, represents District 51 in the Colorado House of Representatives. He is a member of the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee and the Local Government Committee.