The old energy economy—oil and gas—is booming in Colorado, driven by high prices and the Bush administration’s push to aid America’s addiction to fossil fuels. Thousands of new wells have been drilled—many on public land—and ranches, hunting opportunities, wildlife, air quality, public health, and the wildness of the West have all suffered.
Colorado legislators and regulators are finally responding. Tantalized by potential revenue and embarrassed by the State’s low royalty rate—which is far lower than the rate in neighboring Wyoming or New Mexico—the legislature is considering increasing corporate payments on oil and gas drilled here. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission is also proposing taking some modest steps to reduce the industry’s heavy environmental footprint.
The industry’s response is classic school-yard: "We’ll take our ball and go home." Colorado Oil and Gas Association director Meg Collins told the Rocky Mountain News in January: "If the business climate in Colorado is unfriendly to our industry, companies will likely seek out alternative locations in which to invest".
If this whine sounds familiar, it should. In September 2007, Exxon threatened investment would leave Alberta if the province increased its royalty rate. In November 2007, oil industry executives warned that an increased royalty rate approved by the Alaska legislature would discourage investment there. That same month, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said new environmental regulations could drive operators to neighboring Texas and Colorado.
The energy industry is not going to pull out of the West, even if some want it to.
Colorado regulators should ignore the industry’s posturing and do what’s right for taxpayers and the environment.