Say what you will about the newly-constituted Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — it’s certainly taking its new legislatively-mandated role to dismantle the state's economy seriously.
In defiance of all credible data and information at its disposal, the COGCC last week decided to consider at least tripling the existing setback distances between oil and gas wells and occupied structures, and in some cases extend it out to as much as 2,000 feet. What’s more, they decided to include in the package of changes, to be voted on next month, a recommendation that the state redefine from where a setback is measured — from the well head (which sort of makes sense) to the edge of the entire well pad, which includes whatever ancillary equipment is needed. This could add, in many cases, up to 400 feet to the effective setback.
You will recall that in 2018 a ballot measure was introduced over this very issue. Proposition 112 offered a 2,500-foot setback distance, and was overwhelmingly rejected by voters, in what was a very Blue election. Coloradans found the abstract economic risk posed by electing a Democratic governor and legislature was far more tolerable than the very concrete economic risk posed by the Prop 112 setbacks, which studies definitively showed would have essentially precluded oil and gas production in the state.
A 2,400-foot setback is not all that materially different from a 2,500-foot setback, nor will be the results.
For a time now, left-wing organizations and left-leaning government agencies have tried using clarion calls of Science! as a rhetorical battering ram in pushing policy items. This professed fealty to science is clearly disposable. The commission was presented with mountains of empirical data and heard from a myriad of experts — those whose evidence was based on more than channeling Gaia through a Ouija board or tuning in to the whispers of Mother Nature during a listening tour in a designated wilderness area — which collectively testified that there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest that extending current setbacks would have any health or safety benefit. Thousands of air samples taken near wells and petroleum facilities over the past several years have failed to produce any evidence of deleterious health impacts.
It’s not for lack of trying; the Luddites have been desperate to find a smoking gun in their bid to dim the nation's lights and have repeatedly come up empty handed. So, when science fails to do its part in confirming the narrative, it is simply ignored.
The reconfiguration of the COGCC under the patronage of SB 181 has, of course, nothing at all to do with anything merely empirical, like science, data and least of all economics. The bill engineered a change in the commission’s mandate, from one of properly managing the state's most important natural resource to one of safeguarding public health and the environment (apparently the government agency responsible for protecting public health and the environment, the coincidentally named Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is too distracted by deciding what kind of cars should sit in dealer lots and discovering systemic racism in hitherto unknown places).
No, the bill, and the mandated change in the COGCC’s focus, is purely ideological, and therefore necessarily intolerant of anything which does not support the end goal, which is the elimination of fossil fuel production in the state — without a realistic replacement, incidentally. Electrical generation from renewables (we’re talking wind — solar generation barely registers a blip on the Energy Information Agency’s radar) hovers at between 25% and 30% (likely owing to a bit of sleight of hand on the part of generators seeking to comply with the state renewable mandate) leaving coal, and, increasingly, natural gas, as the predominant electrical sources. Nuclear power dare not even be considered. All this to say that the environmental extremists who appear to be running the show in the state will be satisfied with nothing less than a return to the Bronze Age.
And so the COGCC marches onward on its anti-energy crusade. The oil and gas industry in the state, with its hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic output, was already on the ropes in Colorado, victim of a combination of previous bad policies and external factors, predominantly a decrease in demand caused by the COVID pandemic's worldwide economic constrictions. If the COGCC continues to submit blindly to ideological congeries when it votes on the setback proposals next month, that could be the fatal arrow, at which point the commission could claim victory in its mission to reduce the state’s GDP.