Following the collapse of the Don’t Frack Denver campaign, Arapahoe County appears to be the next victim of the anti-fracking movement. Another group, Conservation Colorado, targeted our county by releasing a map aimed at scaring Arapahoe County residents into thinking drilling was arriving in their backyard at any moment. However, in reality, current State regulation specifies setbacks of 500 feet from residential units and 1,000 feet from schools.
Despite the rumors, I know firsthand that local communities and their elected leaders have an active voice in Colorado’s oil and gas development process. We’ve had some level of drilling in Arapahoe County for over 40 years. And, when the Board of County Commissioners became aware of an increased interest in drilling four years ago, we tightened our existing rules.
Our County didn’t wait until it was too late. We took matters into our own hands and crafted a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) so Arapahoe County, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), and the oil and gas industry could set the stage to allow responsible oil and gas development to occur on our terms. In doing so, we ensured development would occur in a manner that is workable (and efficient) for everyone.
The MOU in Arapahoe County was an 18-month process of listening to our community, including environmental groups, neighborhood associations, citizens, businesses, and industry. To ensure safety was our number one concern, we made certain our rules exceeded the regulations required by the state for drilling. We took the time to answer concerns and, at the end of a thorough process, the MOU passed with unanimous bipartisan support.
The agreement we reached embodies the idea of balance. The COGCC monitors the drilling process, while Arapahoe County regulates activities that occur above the surface, like noise and wastewater storage. This understanding also keeps both the state and county from being spread too thin, without limiting energy production. In addition, Arapahoe County made an additional commitment to our citizens by hiring an oil and gas specialist.
Businesses in every industry are looking for certainty. Because concerns are addressed and solved up front in the MOU process, the companies interested in developing the energy beneath our feet can continue with short and longer term planning. That’s good for Arapahoe County, its residents and the industry.
By no means are we overlooking the fact that this is an industrial process, but keep in mind many companies have an interest in going above and beyond our already stringent regulations. Additional improvements that can be approved at the local level are consolidating equipment, centralizing operations, and utilizing underground pipelines to transport oil and water instead of relying on trucks in order to reduce traffic, noise and emissions. It is smart business and better for our environment. With more than 110,000 Coloradans’ employment tied to oil and gas development, the benefits of responsible energy development certainly outweigh the impacts.
Finally, let’s not forget about the 600,000 people who have ties to mineral rights in Colorado, some of which live in Arapahoe County. In 2012, private landowners in Colorado collected an estimated $614 million in oil and gas royalties—keeping farms, ranches and families across the state afloat.
The National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) estimates a ban on fracking in one Colorado county could cost taxpayers over $1 billion in compensation to mineral owners. I personally do not want that to happen to us.
The well-being of citizens should be of paramount concern for any public official. This means working to ensure industrial practices are well-regulated, our environment protected, and at the same time making sure we have jobs and tax revenue to support crucial public services.
As an elected official, mother and grandmother, it is disappointing to see agenda-driven organizations show up out of nowhere and misinform our residents. That’s certainly not how Colorado earned its collaborative reputation of reaching across party lines, listening to others and finding balance.