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SPONSORED CONTENT: The environmental side of oil and gas

Author: Tim Peters - October 20, 2017 - Updated: October 20, 2017


Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry has a strong history of supporting environmental protection and conservation efforts in the state through both routine operations and proactive, innovative initiatives.

From spill preventions and air and water quality monitoring to water recycling programs and efforts to reduce land use, energy companies dedicate their time and resources toward technologies and programs aimed at protecting Colorado’s land, air and water.

“We live here,” said Doug Dennison, who works in environmental and government affairs at Bill Barrett Corp, “We have a very immediate interest in taking care of where we live.”

A large part of the industry’s environmental contributions come in the form of severance taxes, which are paid to the state for the production of oil and natural gas resources.

Colorado has collected nearly $1.7 billion in the taxes over the past decade, an average of about $171 million annually.

Many of those revenues are directed to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for projects involving wildlife management, forestry and water conservation.

In addition to contributions made through severance taxes, the industry regularly works with outdoor and sportsmen’s groups around the state to help restore habitat, build watering facilities and remove harmful invasive plant species. Additionally, Colorado regulations require that oil and natural gas companies restore land to its pre-drilling condition. Topsoil from locations must be preserved and returned to the site once well construction is complete and then again at the end of the well’s productive life.

The U.S. now leads the world in the reduction of carbon emissions, which are expected to hit a 25-year low even as the economy has grown substantially.

Many energy companies have historically maintained extensive programs of wildlife management, including funding habitat studies that identify and study migration routes, elk calving grounds, raptor nesting areas and sage grouse populations. The industry has often partnered in habitat research with various wildlife and conservation organizations across the West. In fact, many experts report that the state’s wildlife — particularly deer herds — would not be as healthy as they are today without the involvement of the oil and gas industry.

“Without the energy industry, there would quite simply be very little money available for habitat research,” said Denny Behrens with Big Game Forever Colorado. “When oil and gas first came to Western Colorado, a lot of folks were afraid of the possible negative impacts, but the reality is that they have the best habitat projects in the West.”

Energy companies have also been developing and perfecting technologies to reduce their footprint on the land.

Horizontal drilling technology, for example, allows an operator to locate wellheads and other surface facilities in more desirable, less environmentally sensitive locations, while still accessing the mineral resources below. It also allows operators to install several wells in a single location. Dennison says that multi-well pads greatly reduce the amount of surface area disturbed by concentrating it in one spot. A single pad can replace as many as 20 individual well sites and also eliminate the need to build roads between them. In fact, the advent of horizontal drilling has resulted in the production of 60 times more energy from one-tenth the number of wells.

Industry officials also point to extensive monitoring efforts to identify and reduce impacts on air and water quality. Colorado was the first state to require water sampling both before and after drilling, and the state has the strictest air quality regulations in the country. Air monitoring around well sites and other facilities is commonplace as companies look to accumulate information and identify potential issues before they become problems.

Tim Peters