Denver smog haze pollution brown cloud

Air pollution over Denver in an undated photo. 

On a day environmentalists issued warnings about Front Range air quality, the oil and natural gas industry is reminding the public of the value it provides Colorado in jobs and gross domestic product.

The professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers crunched government data to measure the impact of the state's oil and natural gas industry and found nearly 1 in 12 Coloradans had a job supported by the industry in 2019.

The study was commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute at a time the industry faces state and federal regulatory pressure, and it was released as parts of the central and northern Front Range missed another benchmark to meet federal air quality standards for ground-level ozone on Tuesday.

Two years ago the heavily populated, traveled and urbanized region was reclassified from “moderate” air quality issues to “serious” and now is likely to be placed in "severe" category.

"The smoke alarm in Colorado is going off, and we need to put out the fire," Danny Katz, the executive director of the public interest advocacy organization CoPIRG, told reporters on a morning teleconference. "Ozone pollution is a public health hazard. It can damage our lungs and damage to asthma in addition to other ailments."

He added in a statement Tuesday, “Too often, people from Denver up to Fort Collins are breathing unhealthy air. More needs to be done to ensure every Coloradan can live a healthy, outdoor life, breathing the clean air they deserve.”

Katz noted that ozone pollution comes from a host of sectors: transportation, industry such as oil and gas development, forest fires, as well as the climate change that feeds fires and heats up and strengthens the harmful ingredients that great dangerous air quality issues.

As the Biden administration begins to roll out its climate change plans, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic majorities in the state General Assembly are moving fast. In 2019, the legislature passed a state Climate Action Plan that includes new rules for oil and gas production. The state is investing heavily in the transition to electric vehicles and more mass transit.

PricewaterhouseCoopers looked at data from 2019 and found the industry:

  • Supported 340,000 total jobs (69,000 direct and 271,000 indirect) or 8.6% of the state's employment.
  • Provided $34.1 billion in labor income ($17 billion direct and $17.1 billion indirect), or 13.4% of the total payroll.
  • Accounted for $46.1 billion of Colorado’s gross domestic product ($19.2 billion direct and $26.9 billion indirect), or 11.7% of the state’s total.
  • Across the country, the industry supported more than 11.3 million total jobs (2.5 million direct and 8.8 million indirect) or 5.6% of total employment.

“For decades, the natural gas and oil industry has been a cornerstone of Colorado’s economy, and this report underscores the crucial role the industry will play as the state works to rebuild from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lynn Granger, the executive director of the API's Colorado office, said in a statement. “As more and more Coloradans return to their normal lives, demand for natural gas and oil has come roaring back, nearing its pre-pandemic heights.

"Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon policymakers at the local, state and federal levels to support the continued safe and responsible development of Colorado’s ample energy resources.”

The industry trade group provided similar reports in other states. New Mexico, for instance, gets $18.8 billion of the state’s gross domestic from the oil and natural gas industry, or about one-fifth of the state economy.

“As America’s economy comes back, the natural gas and oil industry will serve as the foundation for long-term growth and prosperity in Colorado,” stated Mike Sommers, API's president and CEO. “Every state across the country — both blue states and red states — rely on American energy to fuel each sector of the economy and support millions of U.S. jobs.

"This study reinforces that Colorado’s economic outlook is brighter when we are leading the world in energy production, and it serves as a reminder of what’s at stake if policymakers restrict access to affordable, reliable energy and make us more dependent on foreign sources.”

A copy of the report is available by clicking here.

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