Part three in a series responding to a Denver Post guest editorial titled “Is Colorado addicted to oil?” from Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.
The impetus for Wockner’s column seems to be a comment from Governor John Hickenlooper regarding the recent announcement from Anadarko Petroleum about increased investment in the Wattenberg Field due to the discovery of an additional nearly 1.5 billion BOE (barrels of oil equivalent). Hickenlooper said, “We are thrilled to see the company plan a significant investment in Colorado.”
In true Sierra Club elitist fashion, Wockner asks “Addicted or thrilled? Which is it?” As if to suggest that both are bad.
In the first two posts I answered several of Wockner’s “Is Colorado addicted to oil?” and the role that the oil and gas industry plays in Colorado‘s and Weld County’s economy. Now, I’ll address the pot shots Wockner takes at Greeley and Weld County.
Full disclosure: I live in Greeley, the county seat of Weld County. So this is personal. And something I wouldn’t do originally, I’ll answer the “thrilled” question.
In a poorly constructed column, Wockner relies old data and provides no analysis, just unflattering questions directed at Weld County. (He doesn’t like us.)
Weld County already has more oil and gas wells — about 18,000 — than any other county in the United States. So, if oil and gas is good for the economy, shouldn’t Weld County have one of most thriving economies in America?
Weld County’s unemployment rate, poverty rate, home mortgage “underwater” rate, and bank failure rate are well above the state’s average, and Weld County’s home foreclosure rate has been one of the highest in the nation. In addition, Weld County and Greeley (the county seat) have serious problems with crumbling schools and roads, an issue that is supposed to be addressed by money from property and severance taxes on oil and gas. What’s wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with this picture? Everything, especially Wockner’s guilt by association fallacy. It’s sophomoric at best from a guy who has a doctorate. He provides no quantitative facts except the number of wells. His schools, roads, and foreclosures argument is a red herring. Apparently, oil and gas reserves should equate to economic paradise with streets paved with gold. Sorry, that’s only the Saudi royal family.
First, let’s update with a few economic facts about Weld County, something that escaped Wockner’s analysis. At the end of September The Denver Economy Blog reported on the recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics County Employment and Wages Summary:
The average weekly wage exceeded the national change of 5.2 percent in Denver, Douglas, Larimer and Weld Counties. weld [sic] County showed the largest year over year growth with average wages increasing 7.6 percent….
Weld County’s increase placed it at 22nd in the nation for wage growth. Douglas County placed 34th in the nation.
Compared to the nation’s employment growth rate of 1.3 percent, Denver, El Paso and Weld Counties placed higher with year over year employment growth rates of 2.0 percent, 1.4 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
Weld County’s growth placed it 12th in the nation for employment growth. Denver placed 65th. On the other hand, total employment in Douglas County and Jefferson County grew by 06 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. All counties surveyed showed growth in total employment.
Year-over-year change in average weekly wage, by county:
- Denver 5.0
- Douglas 7.1
- El Paso 2.9
- Jefferson 3.7
- Larimer 5.3
- Weld 7.6
Year-over-year change in total employment, by county:
- Denver 2.0
- Douglas 0.6
- El Paso 1.4
- Jefferson 0.5
According to Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, Wockner’s dismal portrayal of Weld County relies upon old headlines to create an image of an economic hellhole. But Conway lives in and represents a much different Weld County. In fact, Conway’s been told that “without Weld’s energy cluster economy the state’s unemployment rate would be a full percentage higher.”
Weld County did suffer the closure of several community banks including New Frontier Bank. That had more to do with poor management and our agriculture industry and real estate. Sadly, it coincided with the new Ritter Rules for oil and gas, which slowed the permitting and drilling process. Investment in Colorado dropped significantly. People were laid off.
Weld County like many throughout the country continues to endure through difficult economic times. And we’ve done it without raising property taxes, no county sales tax, and no debt due in large part to our oil and gas industry.
These resources are not an economic panacea, but without them Weld County and the state of Colorado would be in a financially precarious situation. According to Conway the State Land Board received $100 million in revenue in 2010 from its land leasing operations, 70 percent of which came from Weld County, and that money went directly to the state’s K-12 education fund. So those who want funding for K-12 should be “thrilled” with Weld County’s oil and gas industry.
Furthermore, the $6-7 million in severance taxes that was supposed to come back to the county via the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), instead remained in state coffers to help balance the state budget. Thank you again to Weld County for sharing its oil and gas profits with the rest of the state.
In 2008, Weld County received roughly $56 million from oil and gas severance taxes that went straight to county coffers. That money was used to help Weld County through the Great Recession. Weld County didn’t go into debt, didn’t raise taxes, and didn’t layoff a slew of county employees. We did balance our budget.
The oil and gas industry is also a good corporate neighbor as the Colorado Oil and Gas Association reports:
Oil and gas companies are investing in rural infrastructure such as roads, sewer, and water lines in Weld County—the county with more oil and gas wells than any other county in the nation according to Weld County Commissioners. And where infrastructure investments are made, jobs and development soon follow.
Halliburton officials confirmed the company’s plans to expand their holdings south of Fort Lupton with the addition of a $20 million facility that could eventually double the number of employees currently on staff. Key to Halliburton’s expansion plans is $2.4 million in water and sewer upgrades along Weld County Road 27, extending service 2.5 miles down to Weld County Road 8.
“It is probably the biggest thing to happen for the city in probably 50 years,” Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton said. “Because it adds 2.5 miles of water and sewer, and close to 2,000 acres of property that could be developed with industry.”
And industry giants like Halliburton aren’t the only companies making a difference in the communities in which they do business.
When Conquest Water Services, founded in 1993 by Bruce White and Dale Butcher, petitioned Weld County to build a new water disposal and recycling facility at County Road 74 and Highway 392, they learned about a Briggsdale School District bus stop at that intersection.
Recognizing a need for a safer bus stop, Conquest built, at its own expense, a new one on a one-acre fenced parcel with a safe gravel turn-around which it maintains and leases to Briggsdale School District for $1.00 a year. “We understand the concerns of neighbors, and we do everything we can to be good neighbors,” said Conquest co-founder Bruce White.
No question that in the past Weld County had problems with foreclosure rates, but the most recent data from DOLA shows how Weld’s foreclosure rate has gone down dramatically from one in every 66 homes in 2006 to one in every 269 homes through the second quarter of 2011. The state average is one in every 365, but according to DOLA the frontrange isn’t the problem:
Adams County reported the highest foreclosure rate of the metropolitan counties, although all of the top ten counties with the highest foreclosure rates were found outside the metropolitan areas including: Park, Grand, Gunnison, Garfield and Archuleta, among others.
As for schools, some Weld Districts have problems, including my own but that has NOTHING to do with the oil and gas industry. Wockner equates money with good schools and nothing could be further from the truth. If money were the only factor, Washington D.C. would be graduating rocket scientists and Utah wouldn’t graduate anyone.
As for roads, Weld County is roughly 4,000 square miles, and drivers enjoy well-maintained county roads especially first responders. According to Weld County Sheriff John Cooke response time has dropped by half since 2003 due to the increase in paved roadways and that is due, in part, to revenue from oil and gas.
It’s obvious that the Fort Collins-based Wockner rarely ventures east of I-25 unless it’s in an airplane. If he did, he might have an appreciation for how Weld County encourages oil and gas development without sacrificing quality of life — surface rights and subsurface/mineral rights peacefully co-exist here. And that seems to drive the anti-fossil fuel crowd nuts.
For our county, money is in the land. Greeley Mayor Tom Norton said it best, “wealth is in the ground, and you’ve got to get it out to create more wealth,” whether that’s water, agriculture, mining, or fossil fuels.
Wealth isn’t just money. It’s our way of life. It’s our people. And that includes the oil and gas industry. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
So I’ll answer Gary’s question, I’m thrilled with additional investment in Weld County’s oil and gas resources. And I’m in good company.