Oil-gas boom a ‘double-edged sword’ | AspenTimes.com

Oil-gas boom a ‘double-edged sword’

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” The oil and gas boom has pushed western Colorado’s economy into overdrive but has also polluted air and water, damaged roads, overtaxed government services and scarred landscapes, local officials told lawmakers Tuesday.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” La Plata County finance director Karla Distel said.

Distel and others met with Colorado legislators in this Western Slope town amid a debate over how to spend revenue from the state’s minerals extraction tax, known as the severance tax.

Distel said the boom-and-bust cycle of the energy industry is often out of sync with local government revenue, and La Plata County was forced to cut millions of dollars from its budget just as demand for services increased.

She said the county is setting aside money to cover economic dips but eventually will have to raise taxes.

La Plata county commissioner Kellie Hotter told lawmakers that energy producers in the county paid $272 million in severance taxes over the past five years, but less than 1 percent of that came back to the county in direct distributions.

The distribution formula is based on where the oil and gas workers live, but she said many can no longer afford to live in the county.

Hotter cited other costs as well: five homes razed because of methane seeps blamed on drilling, vegetation destroyed and tourism in decline.

“Dead and dying vegetation from methane seeps is a devastating sight. What are the costs of a lost view?” she asked.

Dean Wingfield, a commissioner in eastern Colorado’s Yuma County, said oil and gas have been a boon to drought-stricken farmers there if they are lucky enough to have wells on their property.

He said the biggest impact has been to the county’s roads, which were not designed for the loads they now carry.

Demand for welfare and other social services has also increased, he said, citing people who travel to the area in hopes of finding work but fail.

“When some of these are found to be as unemployable here as from where they came, they do become a burden,” he told lawmakers.