While the Denver Broncos, frigid temperatures and powder days may be the talk of the town so far in 2014, there are a few other important issues that aren’t likely to grab as many headlines. 2014 could be a great opportunity when it comes to investing in a smart, balanced approach to energy development. Only time will tell if we move in that direction, but here are a few issues to keep an eye on this year.
New leadership at the Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
After repeatedly coming under fire in the last few years for proposing controversial oil and gas plans that would put Colorado’s water, national parks, and wildlife at risk, the state BLM has announced a new interim state director: Ruth Welch. Among some of the most controversial plans that the Colorado BLM put forward included: auctioning oil and gas drilling leases on publicly owned lands, in the midst of farms and wineries and schools in the North Fork Valley, next to Dinosaur National Monument, near Mesa Verde National Park, and in the midst of metro Denver’s drinking water supplies for more than 2 million people.
Hopefully, Welch will adopt a sensible, balanced approach to energy development that protects our health, wildlife, and way of life.
Will Colorado reverse the trend of big oil and gas spills and water contamination?
In 2013, there were 495 chemical spills reported as a result of oil and gas drilling. Nearly one-quarter of these spills resulted in water contamination. In 2012, the oil and gas industry reported 402 spills in the state – of which 20 percent resulted in water contamination. This included the massive 10,000 gallon toxic spill in Parachute Creek by oil and gas operator Williams Company. The state didn’t fine Williams for the spill, despite the water contamination and millions in cleanup costs.
A number of statewide races include candidates with anti-conservation records, including Ken Buck who is challenging incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall. During his last bid for the Senate, Buck claimed that global warming was a hoax. When asked in 2010 about concerns over the safety of drilling in Colorado, Buck responded that he’d never heard that oil and gas drilling was dangerous. Recent polling shows the race getting tighter.
A quartet of Colorado Congressmen: Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn, and Scott Tipton – all with anti-conservation voting records are up for re-election this year. At least one, Rep. Coffman, looks to be in one of the closest races nationally. Coffman has close ties to the oil and gas industry, has championed legislation to boost oil speculation on publicly owned lands and provide special handouts to the oil and gas industry.
Energy development is an important piece of the Western economy for sure. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in Colorado, the agricultural sector contributes $41 billion and the recreation economy contributes over $13.2 billion in economic output. Both depend on commonsense protections for our and air, water and landscapes. Both require that all stakeholders work together to flourish.
The year ahead
2014 will be an important year in Colorado. Not only will the state possibly send new faces to Washington and the governor’s mansion, the economic and environmental impacts of energy development will continue to play a big role in Colorado. If Colorado expects to live up to its new slogan, It’s Our Nature, we’ll have to make sure we continue to fight for a balance between development and conservation. Not only does our quality of life depend on that balance, but so do the many small businesses, farms, ranches, who depend on clean air, water, and access to public lands.