Insidious Initiative 97 would destroy Colorado’s oil and gas economy

Authors: Kevin Hougen, Robert Golden - August 3, 2018 - Updated: August 2, 2018

Kevin Hougen

After decades of hard work, Colorado has a diverse and growing economy. Every sector of that economy is important, but the energy sector plays a critical role. Colorado’s business community will always be ready to defend it.

Energy producers in Colorado literally fuel every other sector of the economy. With locally sourced and affordable energy, our business climate is more competitive. Families have more money in their household budgets.

Energy also supports the livelihoods of thousands of working families across Colorado. According to accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, 6.5 percent of all the jobs in Colorado are supported by oil and gas development. A separate University of Colorado study found oil and gas production generates $1.2 billion in tax revenue annually.

Colorado has always been a major energy-producing state. Today, we rank fifth in the nation in natural gas and seventh in oil. At the same time, we have expanded renewable energy and strengthened environmental protections, using a bipartisan and pragmatic approach.

Colorado has “the strongest set of state regulations of any state in the country where oil and gas extraction is concerned and where hydraulic fracturing is concerned,” former Gov. Bill Ritter (D), a champion of renewables, said in 2015. Since then, those regulations have only grown more stringent, with new mandates including closer coordination with local governments and tighter controls for air quality.

Robert Golden

Yet for all of Colorado’s constructive work, we continue to be targeted by fringe groups seeking an oil and gas ban.

Starting in 2012, national groups led by Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C., declared Colorado “ground zero” in their campaign to “ban fracking everywhere.” After pushing unlawful local bans in and around Boulder, these groups planned to put a statewide ban on the ballot. But when polling showed a majority of Coloradans support fracking for oil and gas, the “ban fracking” campaign changed course.

The direct ban was replaced with a series of de facto statewide bans. In 2014 and 2016, the de facto bans took the form of dramatically wider setbacks for new energy development.

“We will always look for ways to improve safety, but we do not need extreme measures that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said in 2014 when the proposed setback was 2,000 feet.

In 2016, the proposed setback was increased to 2,500 feet – roughly half a mile. The Hickenlooper administration warned drilling would be banned across most of the state.

Opposition to the 2014 and 2016 ballot measures was widespread and they failed to make the ballot. Tom Clark, the former CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Corporation, spoke for many in the business community when he warned the damage could rival the 1980s energy crash caused by OPEC, the global oil cartel led by Saudi Arabia.

“OPEC did it to us once,” Clark said, recalling the mass layoffs of the time. “Let’s not do it to ourselves.”

Today, the 2,500-foot setback has returned as proposed Initiative 97. Food & Water Watch is largely funding the effort and even gathering signatures. An updated state analysis confirms the initiative would ban drilling across most of Colorado, especially in the counties were most energy development takes place. It would also have “a devastating impact on our economy,” including the loss of more than 100,000 jobs and major revenue shortfalls for state and local budgets, according to a report from the REMI Partnership, a coalition of state business groups.

The “ban fracking” backers of Initiative 97 still won’t admit they are trying to eliminate an essential sector of the state economy. But few believe them. During a highly competitive primary, Initiative 97 was shunned by all Democrats and Republicans running for governor, for example.

That’s because the purpose of Initiative 97 is clear: To eliminate the state’s oil and gas sector. And Colorado’s business community will not rest until this economically destructive ballot measure is defeated.

Kevin Hougen

Kevin Hougen

Kevin Hougen is the president and CEO of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the board of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of business leaders focused on energy policy.

Robert Golden

Robert Golden

Robert Golden is the president and CEO of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the board of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of business leaders focused on energy policy.