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Colorado scores first in energy development and conservation

Author: Tim Peters - December 26, 2017 - Updated: December 26, 2017


Colorado has ranked first among western states in terms of conservation and energy development, according to a leading regional conservation group.

The Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based conservation and advocacy organization, placed Colorado first for responsible energy development and outdoor recreation, and second for public lands access, in an annual scorecard it released on Oct. 16.

The “Western States Conservation Scorecard” ranks eight mountain west states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to “illuminate best practices and gaps in state-level public lands-related policy in the West in an effort to highlight where Western states are demonstrating leadership and where they can improve,” according to the center’s website.

While some oil and natural gas opponents have claimed that local and statewide bans on industry development and production practices such as hydraulic fracturing are the only way to ensure protection of Colorado’s environment and outdoors, the scorecard suggests that the state’s more cooperative approach to oil and natural gas regulation is working.

Colorado received points for the oil and gas industry’s first-in-the-nation disclosure website for chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, vigorous spill prevention and reporting protocols, baseline water sampling and testing, methane capture and leak reduction and the return taxpayers receive for energy production occurring on public lands.

The report praises Colorado’s prioritization of outdoor recreation, citing dedicated funding through the state’s lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado, as well as the opening in 2015 of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and its role in bringing the Outdoor Retailer trade show to Denver. The report also noted efforts to direct funding toward programs to engage school-age children in outdoor activities.

Notably, the Center’s report also scored the state highest among the eight for responsible energy development, alluding to several industry-driven initiatives and key components of the state’s regulatory structure for oil and natural gas, which is touted as the strongest in the nation.

Experts say that the high marks given to the state from a leading conservation organization point to the successful balance achieved in Colorado between environmental protection and oil and gas development.

“We have shown time and again that responsible energy development and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive,” Dan Haley, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told The Denver Post following the release of the scorecard. “It is possible to preserve our special places while also maintain our ability to provide good-paying jobs and affordable energy that benefits all of us.”

Scott Braden, a public lands and wilderness advocate with Conservation Colorado, noted that the state has made a long-term commitment to protecting the outdoors and encouraging the responsible use of public lands.

“Colorado’s leadership isn’t just our hallmark, but it’s also directly benefiting the state’s economy, bringing new companies and jobs into Colorado, and establishing the Centennial State as a national leader,” Braden said in a statement included in a press release from Western Priorities.

While the report did point out areas where the authors feel the state could do better — such as increasing access to state trust lands — overall the picture it paints is one of success at striking balance and maintaining cooperation between the energy industry and regulators.

But as political battles continue to play out, experts say that the state receiving high scores on energy policy from a recognized conservation group bodes well for efforts to balance conservation and economic development.

“Some people want to tell you that you can’t have both of these things,” said COGA’s Haley, “but in Colorado, we do.”

Tim Peters