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Fracking: Website tries to show oil and drilling are great for Colorado

Oil and drilling do wonderful things for Colorado, and government better stay out of the industry's way.

This seems to be an underlying message behind a new web portal launched this week by the Western Energy Alliance, a Colorado-based group that represents hundreds of oil and gas companies in the west. The interactive site shows users just how much economic development and and how many jobs come from this industry.

The site includes a map of the country that lets viewers click on specific states to see the economic impacts of the industry.

The announcement of the interactive site times well with news this week that the Aurora City Council has voted to "lease" water to Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which will use it for hydraulic fracturing.

And the information on the site could be used to defend these kinds of deals -- and to tell the fracking foes to back off.

The Western Energy Alliance reports that the western oil and natural gas exploration and production industry employs 229,150 workers nationwide and generates over $51 billion in economic impact across the country, "revealing its far-reaching benefit as a cornerstone of the U.S. economy." The press release unveiling the portal says that this sector provides over $15.5 billion in wages to American families and nearly $13 billion in taxes annually.

"People are aware of the large economic impact, but this is a tool that specifically enables someone to see down to the congressional district level where those jobs and economic activity [are]," says Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance.

And according to the portal's handy-dandy tools, Colorado is number one in three main categories.

The state is at the top of the list for "total industry ranked by jobs," with 48,898 positions, as well as number one based on economic output -- $13,234,182.80. Colorado is also in first place for wages, at $5,152,783.69. Behind Colorado in these categories are Wyoming, New Mexico and North Dakota.

"What's interesting about Colorado is it's a regional hub," says Sgamma. "Here in Denver...they'll have headquarters here even if they don't operate here...because it's such a desirable location."

In the congressional district represented by Diana DeGette, which includes Denver, the site shows that there are more than 4,000 jobs in drilling and production, accounting for $437,861,100 in wages and an output of $1,077,706,100. And in this district, the total economic output, including supplier economic impact, is estimated at $3,163,821,900.

When asked if the site and data are meant to respond to concerns of fracking (like this), Sgamma says, "There's always the possibility for overregulation and government bureaucracy to prevent job creation and economic activity. When you have counties and cities making it difficult for the industry to operate, then at some point, they're just gonna say, 'I'm going to go elsewhere.'"

That's what makes the site such a useful tool for the alliance, she says. "This is going to enable us to say...'Okay, you want to put in this new regulation or this new tax on the industry? That's gonna cost...this many jobs and economic activity.'"

Sgamma also defends against fracking criticisms, saying, "We worked extremely hard over the last couple of decades to make sure our environmental footprint is as low as possible. We've improved technology to make processes more safe...fewer air emissions. Fracking itself has an exemplary safety record."

More from our Environment archive: "Video: Tiny documents big dreams in mini-house movement"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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