As with oil shale,gas industry needsstudy of impacts
The Post Independent opinion that the “Gas industry should pay for impacts” is correct, but needs some tempering with practical judgment and some corrections about what actually went on in that regard during the oil shale era some 25-years ago.It is true that oil shale companies, mostly major oil firms, agreed to and then footed the bill for many infrastructure changes that were needed in contemplation of a mammoth oil shale industry. The federal government had provided inducements and had set a goal of 1 million barrels per day of shale oil within 10 years. The improvements funded by industry ranged from building water and sewer systems to road improvements to adding law enforcement officers to improved health-care facilities, and even to improvements at the airport in Grand Junction. Ironically, even after the demise of the oil shale industry that hurt so many people, we in this region still enjoy some of the improvements brought about at that time.It is not true that Exxon had to build Battlement Mesa, as stated in the editorial. The property was acquired and plans were made for Battlement Mesa as early as the 1960s by Tosco Corp. Tosco, then known as the Oil Shale Corp., realized that it could not have a viable project in western Colorado without providing housing and infrastructure for its workforce, and wanted to be a good citizen in the region. When Exxon became Tosco’s partner in the Colony Project it took over as operator and built Battlement Mesa at a cost of some $100 million (in today’s dollars, much more). The major difference between oil shale of that bygone era and natural gas development today is the scope of the anticipated impacts. Western Colorado has grown in population, and we have seen dramatic infrastructure improvements as the lure of our lifestyle and recreation have brought people, businesses and increased employment to our region. A single oil shale plant producing 50,000 barrels per day of oil would have been very labor-intensive, requiring thousands of workers to build and later operate, as well as many support businesses. The analyses of that time, which involved a comprehensive computer program (yes, we had computers then), looked mainly at the impact of population increase in what was then a very remote region. Natural gas development is not labor-intensive but does bring unique impacts to local communities and the region as a whole.So what impacts should gas companies pay for? It is not clear in my mind, because it has to be weighed against the increase in tax revenues, employment and business opportunities afforded by their presence. Oil shale really brought little if any increased energy tax revenues since oil production was not contemplated for years after the impacts were starting to be incurred. So, there are many differences, but the principle is sound that industry should pay its fair share and be responsible citizens.My recommendation is that the county utilize a small amount of its gas tax revenues and/or EnCana fine moneys, matched by the gas industry, to conduct a study of the issue. This was also done 25 years ago under the auspices of The Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association (RMOGA) Committee on Oil Shale and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. The result was a jointly developed analysis and a coming together of industry and community leaders to agree on the issues based upon facts, and not emotion. This could be undertaken as a project by the recently formed Energy Advisory Board, or a separate panel of community and industry leaders.R. Glenn Vawter was with Tosco Corp. for 20 years during the oil shale boom and bust. He was the president of the RMOGA Committee on Oil Shale and worked with community leaders to assess the impact of oil shale commercialization in western Colorado. He lives in Glenwood Springs.R. Glenn Vawter was with Tosco Corp. for 20 years during the oil shale boom and bust. He was the president of the RMOGA Committee on Oil Shale and worked with community leaders to assess the impact of oil shale commercialization in western Colorado. He lives in Glenwood Springs.
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