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The Sound of the Sixth Shoe Falling
Rarely do you hear squeals of glee when people are told the oil boys are coming to town. Usually you get the other reaction, which helps explain why 5 front-range cities, Ft Collins, Lafayette, Longmont, Broomfield, and Boulder, have banned oil and gas drilling and the invasion of the industry into their communities over the past several years.
This happened despite the oil industry spending well over $1 million in unsuccessful attempts to defeat the citizen led ban efforts. Governor Hickenlooper joined the oil chorus by bringing a lawsuit against his own people for practicing their constitutional rights of self-determination.
Adding to the daffiness is Republican Representative Jerry Sonnenberg who has reintroduced legislation to deny severance tax from oil and gas revenues to any city daring to ban drilling in their parks and neighborhoods. Sonnenberg is himself a recipient of over $600 thousand in farm subsidies.
Judging from recent reporting in the Loveland Report-Herald, March 20th, Betsey Hale, Loveland’s economic development director, has joined the gas and oil chorus with her piping over the jobs Loveland will enjoy if the city just lowers the gates and allows the industry to have their way and drill away.
Let’s take a close look at the jobs the oil industry provides compared to jobs and job potential in the renewable industry—solar and wind, primarily. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, oil and gas accounted for 45 percent of the electricity generated in this country, surpassing coal-fired power plant generation. It provided 181,000 direct jobs. Comparatively, renewables, which account for 15 percent of the nation’s electrical production account for 183,000 direct jobs, says the BLS. One might speculate that renewables could provide 3 times the number of jobs nationally as oil and gas if it were producing the same amount of electricity, and well over one million direct jobs if it were anointed the primary source of electricity in this nation.
Too, the oil and gas industry provides few new jobs, and most of the high paying jobs evaporate once the drilling and pipe laying are completed. They move on to the next target. Left behind are the secondary jobs, which are lower paying and often without benefits since many are “private contractors.”
But it is when the secondary or external costs are examined that the big lie of oil and gas as our salvation is exposed. For example road damage from oil traffic is horrendous. The 24 counties making up the Eagle Ford gas play in Texas have received $323 million in severance taxes. Yet just one of these counties, DeWitt, estimates it road damages exceed $424 million. Another rural county in Texas estimates its road repairs from oil come to over $6 million. The county’s entire annual budget is $600 thousand. Pennsylvania estimates it road damages from fracking at $7 billion, 28 times what it has received in severance taxes. Similarly, North Dakota estimates it road damages at $7 billion, over twice what it has received in severance taxes. Colorado has no similar estimates as of yet. The taxpayers will pick up the difference.
The health impacts are even more fearsome. Last week the World Health Organization estimated that air pollution is killing over 7 million people a year, 3.9 million in industrialized nations from outdoor pollution. Of course, these deaths cannot be laid at the feet oil and gas industry, but the burning of fossil fuels is the source for much of this pollution. In Colorado, the industry is the largest contributor of smog from VOCs. In fact, its contribution is three times that of the exhaust from all the automobiles in the state, and is the chief cause of extremely high ozone pollution along the northern front-range. Asthma is but one of the diseases that can be traced to low-level smog in the air we breath.
The Governor in one of those industry friendly moves he is becoming justly famous for has asked the industry to reduce its pollution by 1/3. It has agreed, but if fracking continues on its present pace, this reduction will soon be exceeded by the pollution from new wells.
Then there is the industry’s cavalier pollution of our drinking water, a supply that is limited, already over appropriated, and further threatened by the prospect of climate change. The industry is fond of saying it only uses a fraction of the water agriculture does. This is undeniable, but what they don’t say is that the water they use is forever corrupted and buried deep underground, primarily in old, played-out oil and gas wells. Billions of gallons of fracking fluids are dumped into these wells each year with the industry’s promise the poisons will never get into our groundwater supply. This assertion has been roundly questioned by a host of objective observer, not least of which is the scientist at EPA who was once in charge of this injection program.
Whether this contaminated groundwater may be needed 50 to 100 years from now by our children’s children is unknown, but our shortsightedness forecloses on that possibility.
When the citizens of Loveland constitutional rights of self determination are finally restored, and they are allowed to vote on whether they want the oil industry in their parks, open space, and neighborhoods, the foregoing information may be useful. And despite the industry’s insistance that they are our future and our past, there is another future.
Professor Mark Jacobson of the engineering and environmental science school at Stanford has designed one of these potential futures, goggle the Futures Project. His studies show that Colorado by 2050 can be fully sustained by renewables. The avoided health costs and mortality would come to almost to six and half billion dollars annually. The annual energy savings to every Colorado family would be almost $7,000. If we reach for a future like Dr. Jacobson describes, our children and their children might applaud.
PHILLIP DOE lives in Colorado. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org