The global energy economy has changed much over the years: uncertainty and upheaval in the world oil market; advances in solar and wind power; watershed legislation passed in Colorado that makes sweeping revisions to our state’s rules for energy exploration and development.
Through it all, though, we had clung to the hope that the core mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would remain in tact. Notably, regulating the responsible development of Colorado’s considerable oil and gas reserves.
As opposed to, say, undermining exploration and production at every turn, and driving off the industry and its many, many jobs.
How naive of us.
This week, some of the worst fears of the state’s economically pivotal but beleaguered oil and gas industry — that the extreme green wing of Gov. Jared Polis’ administration is bent on driving them out of business — were reinforced. A misfired internal email among commission staffers reveals a lot about those who oversee the industry for the state. It also entitles oil and gas operators to a “told ya so,” for what it’s worth.
As first reported by CBS4 Denver, staff members at COGCC were testing a new e-filing system last Sunday and inadvertently sent an email to hundreds of oil and gas workers across the state. The email spoofily renamed some of the companies they work for — something, as CBS4 noted, you don’t expect from a public agency that’s supposed to be fair and unbiased.
The mock roster with upcoming hearings before the state commission included “Snake Oil Inc.,” its purported law firm “Blah Blah Blah” and its hearing case number “666.” Other names included “Acme Company,” “Bad Oil and Gas,” “Really Rich,” “Here We Go Again,” and Dr. Seuss character “The Lorax.”
Silly. And lame, sure. We’ll give commission Director Julie Murphy the benefit of the doubt and assume she disapproves of the horseplay if only for appearances. Let’s hope and trust the employees involved were appropriately disciplined.
Then again, why bother? Like bored little kids who tag along to a dinner party only to let slip what mom and dad really think of the party’s host, the culpable commission staffers and their sophomoric gag didn’t wind up imparting anything that Murphy, the ruling majority on the commission she serves and, for that matter, the green-energy governor who appointed them — don’t actually believe themselves. This just happened to be an especially embarrassing way to expose the institutional mindset.
And that’s what’s really troubling.
Since taking the helm of the ship of state, Polis, an antagonist of the oil and gas industry, has sought repeatedly to reassure industry players he wasn’t out to get them — even as his administration’s policies and actions have belied his reassurances.
The commission tentatively approved radical rule changes Sept. 28, quadrupling the setback for future drilling and fracking operations statewide. The new standards, set to take effect Jan. 1 after a final vote by the commission as early as Monday, requires 2,000 feet between a drilling platform and occupied buildings, including homes and schools, instead of the current 500 feet.
The new rules, driven by a vocal and well-financed political fringe, render a significant amount of Colorado’s abundant oil and gas off limits. Oil and gas representatives — whose industry contributes about $19 billion to the state economy and $1 billion in local taxes — say that will compound the COVID-driven disruption of a global energy economy that already has destabilized Colorado’s second-largest industry.
It was all set in motion in 2019 when Polis and allied lawmakers pushed ahead with legislation that reshuffled the state’s oil and gas commission and handed it a new mandate — one that effectively gives a stiff thumb in the eye to the industry the commission regulates.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the commission offered an official apology: “…some of the names used during this testing were not professionally chosen. The employees involved in this situation have had this addressed by their supervisors.” She added, “This unfortunate incident does not reflect upon the quality of work that has been and will be conducted by COGCC for all its customers.”
The governor himself chimed in via a statement released to the press, calling the incident “completely unacceptable.”
“Whether you agree with everything the oil and gas industry does or not, in Colorado we treat everyone with honor, respect, and professionalism.”
Sure — even as they undermine this strategic industry, crucial to Colorado’s economy as well as to the nation’s energy independence and national security.
The cat is now out of the bag — if it ever was entirely in one. Maybe it’s time to drop the act.