What price oil?

Drilling operation near Frederick, Colorado. Longs Peak in background. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Updated March 23, 1:30 pm

If you were planning a move to Colorado, is this what you’d want to see? Would you buy a home where this picture was taken?

That’s the issue that has been and still is dividing the state. The oil and gas industry wants to drill up and down the I-25 corridor, along the Front Range, from Denver to Cheyenne. Apparently there is a very rich field of oil and gas just north of Denver. This clashes directly with Denver’s very rapid growth — residential suburbs spreading north as fast as developers can build them.

It’s become a race to see who can grab the land first. A measure to restrict (not eliminate) drilling operations in the area failed by a narrow margin in November. Now the state legislature is considering a law that would leave most decisions about drilling to the cities affected. Like other zoning restrictions, drilling locations and decisions would rest with the cities within whose limits the drilling would occur. Sounds fair and logical to me.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is running ads constantly. Misleading ads, if you ask me. The state is NOT trying to drive the industry out of Colorado. The state is NOT acting in the middle of the night to pass its legislation. But the drillers are applying for permits as fast as they can, to get them before any restrictive law can be passed. (Just last night my county enacted a six-month moratorium on new drilling permits. Thank you, commissioners.)

Everyone has heard that such drilling — fracking, to be precise — uses and pollutes precious water supplies, creates air pollution, causes noise, can leak gas or oil and cause explosions and fires, and of course, creates a very real potential for earthquakes (see Oklahoma).

I don’t know how you put a price on lifestyle, safety, and aesthetics, but the oil and gas people are very vocal about how much we’ll lose in tax money, jobs, etc. if we restrict their activities.

For me it’s pretty simple. I didn’t move here just so I could look at more drilling operations … like those I saw in Oklahoma all my life. The little house I bought here in Thornton was already surrounded by residential development for at least a mile in every direction. But the places I dreamed of living were farther north, on high, rolling prairies with gorgeous views of the mountains. And every one of those places is now blighted with drilling rigs. The area has become a depressing checkerboard of drilling operations and residential developments.

How do you put a price on natural beauty? On safety? On peace of mind? I don’t know. I just know I wouldn’t buy a place near a drilling rig. And I agree with the legislature, assuming they pass the new law. Our cities should have the power to regulate any drilling within their limits. Zoning laws. You’ve heard of them. No reason the oil and gas industry should be exempt from them.

Erie, Colorado. Median home value here is $493,000. Drilling rigs free of charge. (Photo by Phil Cherner)

9 thoughts on “What price oil?

  1. I recently read a book centred on the evils of fracking, so there is no doubt in my mind, that it will not be stopped, there’s too much money to be made; and lets face it, what is of the most importance? Big profits.naturally.

  2. I live in western Pennsylvania, which was an early player in fracking. From my perspective, it has been a disaster. Because the economy here isn’t thriving, unlike Colorado, we can’t rely even on leaving the decision to individual municipal entities. For example, one local municipality approved fracking in a municipal park! Why? Because the frackers offer money, and some of these municipalities are having a difficult time keeping up with expenses. And individual homeowners! So many have accepted the lure of “easy” money, permitting fracking on their land, only to find that the companies have deceived them into believing they will get more than actually materializes. There was a fabulous article in the New York Times exploring some scenarios in West Virginia; I’ve lost the name of it but will send it to you if/when I find it. That article described individuals who are forced by law to allow access through their property for frackers – sometimes the frackers build roads to the fracking site very close to the home (despite having plenty of other access points), forcing the homeowners to live through the noise and dust pollution all day long, in addition to the destruction of their nearby woods where they have walked for decades. In another article, a West Virginian whose family cemetery has been trashed (headstones literally broken by fracking blasts) noted that he is beginning to understand how the Native Americans felt.

    1. If there’s a dollar to be made, big oil will go after it. In the cheapest way possible. Old fashioned drilling worked fine in Oklahoma for decades. Then somebody figured out fracking was a cheaper way to do it and they never looked back. Colorado isn’t the first state to deal with it, and we sure won’t be the last. I just wish we hadn’t waited so long. And I hope the current legislation passes. I’ve had it up to here with big industries running rampant over the little guy, just because they can.

    1. Environmentalists are very strong in Colorado, for obvious reasons. But I have to agree with you. I wouldn’t bet against the oil industry. There’s a lot of land in Colorado, but unfortunately the oil and the bulk of the population are both located in the same area.

  3. My uncle proved up on the last claim run they had in Colo. long ago. Another relative’s writing in a local Colo. newspaper where she lived enthralled me with her descriptive words though I never met her. Years later my husband and I have visited there several times and wanted to live there but the job offer was in the southwest. Even then there were subsequent visits including when an adult child’s first baby was born there where they had moved. I’ve seen the changes over decades and would hate to see the landscape marred by the oil industry — both above and below ground. Fracking is a rape of the earth and may well subject the land to undesirable consequences well-documented elsewhere.

    1. Lots of places less desirable than the Denver-Cheyenne corridor have banned fracking. I started to say I don’t see why anyone would think twice about protecting what we have here, but didn’t even finish the thought before $$$$ started flying through my head. The oil & gas giants and their investors put their own profits above everything else.

      I’ve been vacationing in this area since I was a kid and feel very privileged to have finally managed to move here. A lot has changed in 70 years, but a lot hasn’t. It’s still worth saving. Some things are priceless.

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