Research & Commentary: Data Shows Methane Emissions in Colorado Declined Significantly Despite Large Increase in Oil Production

Published October 6, 2022

New satellite data analyzed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), methane emissions in Colorado’s Front Range, the easternmost section of the Rocky Mountains, have been steadily falling.

According to COGA, satellite data from an new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics shows methane emissions have decreased 72 percent from a study published in 2015. This methane emissions decrease has occurred over the same period that oil production in Colorado has increased by about one third, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  

“Colorado’s oil and natural gas workers continue to innovate and strive to position Colorado as a global leader in producing the cleanest energy molecules that we all need and use every day,” said COGA President and CEO Dan Haley in a press release. “Despite what the ‘leave-it-in-the-ground’ environmental lobbyists might say, Colorado’s oil and natural gas operators continue to decrease our climate footprint, while at the same time increasing production.”

Oil and gas production, primarily driven by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” are a major driver of Colorado’s economy. A 2021 report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute and undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers found the oil and natural gas industries directly or indirectly supported over 235,000 jobs in Colorado in 2019, or 8.6 percent of the total share of state employment. Further, the oil and gas industries produced $25.2 billion in labor income, which was 13.4 percent of the state total share, and had a statewide economic impact of $30.7 billion, for 11.7 percent of the state total share.

The importance of the oil and gas industries to the Colorado economy is crystal clear, yet that doesn’t stop environmental activists and state policymakers from looking for ways to curtail the activities of the industries in the Centennial State, or to go even further and eliminate their presence altogether. This would be disastrous for Coloradoans.

report released in November 2019 by the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce details how a ban on hydraulic fracturing (colloquially known as “fracking”) would have devastating consequences for the Colorado economy. According to the study, if a fracking ban took place, Colorado would experience the cumulative loss of 468,000 jobs thanks to higher residential and business energy costs and upstream production losses, as well as $187 billion in lost gross domestic product (GDP), and a $14.9 billion loss in state and local tax revenues by 2025. Over that same period, Colorado households would experience a $120 billion loss of income and Coloradans would suffer a per capita cost-of-living increase of $6,490.

2020 report from API, with modeling data provided by the consulting firm OnLocation, has unemployment numbers in Colorado due to a fracking ban that mirror GEI’s study, with 353,000 lost jobs in 2022 alone.

The development of shale reserves in Colorado has turned the state into the seventh-largest producer of natural gas in the United States, as well as the fourth-largest producer of crude oil. This massive increase in domestic shale development, led by fracking, has caused natural gas prices to plummet in Colorado, saving state residents and businesses more than $12.4 billion from 2006 to 2016, according to a 2018 study from the Consumer Energy Alliance.

For what it’s worth, a 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Research & Social Science found Colorado voters living in close proximity to an oil or natural gas drilling site were more likely to oppose 2018’s failed Proposition 112 ballot initiative that would have effectively banned fracking across the state than those who live far away from a drilling site.

The oil and natural gas deposits found in Colorado are abundant, inexpensive, and environmentally safe, and can ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century. Therefore, Colorado policymakers should refrain from placing unnecessary burdens on the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe and positively impact the state economy.

The following documents provide more information about fossil fuels.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2019
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 11.3 million U.S. jobs in 2019, produced $892 billion in labor income, and had a nationwide economic impact of nearly $1.7 trillion The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

America’s Progress at Risk: An Economic Analysis of a Ban on Fracking and Federal Leasing for Natural Gas and Oil Development
The study from the American Petroleum Institute (conducted by economic modeling firm OnLocation)  warns that banning federal leasing and fracking on public and private lands, which some presidential candidates have proposed, would cost up to 7.5 million American jobs in 2022 alone, lead to a cumulative GDP loss of $7.1 trillion by 2030, slash household incomes by $5,400 annually, increase household energy costs by more than $600 per year and reduce farm incomes by 43 percent due to higher energy costs. If a ban is enacted, the U.S. would flip from being a net exporter of oil and petroleum products to importing more than 40 percent of supplies by 2030

What If…Hydraulic Fracturing Were Banned? (2020 Edition)
This study from the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a ban on fracking in the United States would be catastrophic for our economy. Their analysis shows that if such a ban were imposed in 2021, by 2025 it would eliminate 19 million jobs and reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $7.1 trillion. Tax revenue at the local, state, and federal levels would decline by nearly a combined $1.9 trillion. Natural gas prices would leap by 324 percent, causing household energy bills to more than quadruple. By 2025, motorists would pay twice as much at the pump for gasoline as oil prices spike to $130 per barrel, while less domestic energy production would also mean less energy security.

The Value of U.S. Energy Innovation and Policies Supporting the Shale Revolution
This report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that increased oil and natural gas production due to the fracking revolution is saving American families a combined $203 billion annually, or around $2,500 per family. On top of this, the fracking revolution is benefitting the environment, lowering energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 527 million metric tons between 2005 and 2017.

Natural Gas Savings to End-users: 2008-2018 A Technical Briefing Paper
This report prepared by Kleinhenz & Associates for the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program shows increased oil and natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing saves American families $203 billion annually on gasoline and electricity bills. This breaks down to $2,500 in savings per family per year.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and former Heartland communications intern Linnea Lueken outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Local Fiscal Effects of a Drilling Downturn: Local Government Impacts of Decreased Oil and Gas Activity in Five U.S. Shale Regions
This study from Resources for the Future finds 82 percent of communities in the five largest shale regions in the United States experienced a net fiscal benefit from hydraulic fracturing despite a large drop in oil and natural gas commodity prices starting in 2014.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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