From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
A year ago Colorado voters rejected Proposition 112, the proposal to sharply curtail oil-and-gas drilling. But it was clear that legislators would take up the issue of further restraints on drilling, if not as Draconian as those outlined in Proposition 112.
But what would be the economic effects of clipping the wings of this business sector just a bit? That was the good question I set out to answer. The obvious comparison was to the giant economic shudder of the early and mid-1980s, one triggered by what is still remembered on the Western Slope as Black Sunday.
There had been a boom of rare proportions as Exxon and other oil companies threw money at the hope that the vast kerogen deposits of the Piceance Basin would finally be squeezed successfully (and economically) to yield hydrocarbons. That effort had begun in 1918, but with little success.
Then, the Saudis opened the spigot, prices plunged, and Exxon pulled out. One result: In 1985, when I moved to Vail, I got a condominium that was very affordable. If Vail’s real estate got pricey in coming years, the hangover in Glenwood Springs lasted longer. And in Denver, although I was not living there then, my impression was of a certain darkness. Cities altogether struggled in the ’70s and ’80s, but Denver may have had a darker edge to it.
A year ago, my journalistic question was just how dependent Colorado was on oil-and-gas extraction? Colorado Biz magazine commissioned the inquiry.
The answer, published in late December under the heading of Addition by Extraction, indicated that if all the drilling rigs went away, there would be great pain in some areas, Greeley more than Fort Collins, but even in downtown Denver, a lot more vacant offices. But in no way was the comparison to the oil shale bust valid. Colorado’s economy had become far more diversified in the almost 30 years since Black Sunday. Predictions of economic collapse were just ridiculous.
(Just the same, I saw exactly those sorts of prediction in February as state legislators considered rules to give local governments more say in regulation and, inevitably, restriction).
Now, some months since the restrictions have gone into place, I don’t know their effect. My impressions, though, is that the oil-and-gas sector is doing just fine. The bigger problem, one similar to that of the early 1980s, similar to that of the early 1980s, when the Saudis turned on the spigot. But this time the plentitude is from domestic sources, particularly the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico
Let me add this: I had an interesting conversation with somebody at a conference this week. He had been in the oil-and-gas sector, made good money, and moved on. Given what we know about climate change, he said, it was immoral of the oil and gas company executives to keep plunging ahead, business as usual.
Now, I can’t get into that dimension in a business magazine that favors cheerleading stories about economic growth, at least not in that direct way. For them, I can sing the praises of alternatives, such as economic opportunities for electric cars (and I have a story in the current issue of Colorado Biz on that very topic). But that’s an important discussion to have.
Bill McKibben has been pushing that discussion since at least 2012, when he passed through Denver on one of his many “Do the Math” stops. His 6,000-word piece in Rolling Stone about “the terrifying new math of global warming” had been published the previous year. At the time, I called it, with understatement, “brilliant and and disturbing.”
“Those fossil fuels, if they are burned in the same way others have been burned, will produce five times the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be absorbed if rise of global temperatures is to be kept within a two degree increase. In other words, as McKibben put it, if the fossil fuels sector carries out its business plan, the planet tanks.”
Almost eight years later, we’ve made much progress. The coal plants are being shuttered rapidly, and we’re now on the verge of a big, big increase in electric cars. but oh so much work remains. And McKibben is right. Unless we figure out a way to sequester the carbon from the emissions, we can’t burn these fossil fuels. — Allen Best, Nov. 9, 2019