The Fight for Control of the Gas Industry Continues in Colorado and the Rest of U.S.

Edwin Reyes, Rookie Editor

Most modern homes have access to natural gas, powering heating and cooling such as refrigeration, dryers, water heaters, air conditioning, and ranges for cooking or baking. Due to the relatively low cost of natural gas compared to alternatives (oil, propane, and electric), it is the most commonly used fuel in American Households. Sometimes the cost is subsidized by the natural gas industry themselves along with the federal government so only the cost of labor of installation is left up to the consumer which can range conservatively from $3,000 to $6,000. In fact, the majority of fossil fuels are subsidized to keep costs artificially low; a perfect example of this is when filling the tank at a gas station before the Ukraine crisis Americans would typically pay $3.42 a gallon. However, what if I told you that without these subsidies the price you’ll actually be paying would be roughly $16.30 a gallon? It would appear that our price of $5.80 per gallon today seems practical according to data collected by Presidio Economics for Triple Pundit. 

You may be curious about how much the subsidies are received by the fossil fuel industry. The International Monetary Fund released data they gathered and revealed that in 2020 they received $5.9 trillion, roughly $11 million a minute. Interestingly enough, that is on par with the amount of money the world spends on secondary education, which is $6.3 trillion according to data by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Statista. Natural gas accounts for roughly $1 trillion while oil accounts for a whopping $2 trillion alone of that total. 

How did we get here? As with all things, there was an intention to do good to oppose the monopolization of a resource to protect small energy companies from bankruptcy as starting up production was expensive let alone refining it and transport. Now, however, these companies have grown, and they continue to rely on these subsidies to stay competitive in a world where renewable energy prices are coming down at a significant rate This threatens the industry as a whole, as they are swaying government officials through lobbying and front groups to campaign that they’re for the little guy. To oppose “forced electrification” as the group Coloradans for Energy Access so lovingly put it, that cutting accessibility to gas would harm communities, etc.  This group is supposedly a front for Atmos Energy, the nation’s largest gas-only utility, which holds onto politicians in Colorado who support electrification practically by their throat, thanks to these subsidies as it would be political suicide to take drastic action against natural gas because most citizens in Colorado rely on gas to heat their homes, cook their food, to have hot water for their bath. The fact that the cost of natural gas would go up drastically without the subsidies currently implemented would, as you guess, probably cause panic and anger costing the politicians their reelection. When the group was founded, they immediately started with false claims, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, in which they claimed that “heat pumps cost more to operate than gas furnaces,”  which was later removed from their page on Colorado Sun”. The authors of which, according to Colorado Public Radio, refused to comment on this occurrence. 

Progressives and state political leaders opt for a “below the radar approach” according to William Allison with FTI Consulting, annoyed by legislation to “make companies or individuals pay to be connected to a gas line” or “the ban to install new lines in development of infrastructure.” You may be wondering what is the deal with FTI Consulting? They are a strategic communications firm with a history of leading influence campaigns for the oil and gas industry. Of course, it is their job to keep their clients informed about recent developments in states and how to circumvent them. Since their typical strategy won’t work in Colorado because of its dominant status of being Democratic, usually in Republican-held states they’ll lobby for legislation. Such legislation could be the “energy economy act” or the “All-fuels bill.” With the case in Kansas, it was the “Energy Choice Act”, a desperate attempt to make sure city officials can’t ban natural gas expansion in new infrastructure, a major blow to progressives in the state. 

In Colorado, FTI’s strategy seems to be to confuse or outright deceive the public with true and false information generally known as disinformation. Jennifer Altieri with Atmos Energy prefers to call it an “effort to educate the public” on how natural gas can be used as the “Bridge fuel” to renewable energy generation. How minority communities would suffer because of new legislation being passed that would threaten affordability. How “Innovation” results in “cleaner production of natural gas and renewable gas.” What is renewable natural gas? It is the collection and burning of gas from Livestock that alone emit 64% of total ammonia emissions along with 40% of methane emissions resulting in 14.5% of total emissions. Incentivizing this would worsen the environment because of the land exhaustion caused by the livestock who live and graze on it. As proven by the meat industry which alone is responsible for 85% of all soil erosion so adding the gas industry on top of this would ensure the destruction of the carbon capture abilities of soil making it infertile. The deforestation that would be caused by allowing such expansion will alone release seven million tonnes of carbon per tree while also destroying the forest soil counterpart of its agricultural brethren, which absorbs methane instead of carbon, allowing an increase of methane into the atmosphere that will accelerate climate change 80 times faster than carbon ever could within a 20-year timeframe according to national geographic. 

Colorado seems to be a center stage for future strategies in Democratic-led states where the fossil fuel industry, in general, is seen in a bad light compared to Republican-led states where jobs and “preserving local economies” are enough for them to look the other way. It is why front groups like Coloradans for Energy Access are important. In fact, Alteri from Atmos energy themselves has admitted that “the dire need for a coalition like this is to not just have one voice… there have to be multiple voices that are out there protecting our products.” Their own success is dependent on this because of Colorado’s “intricacies” according to the Huffington Post. 

Recent decisions made by Colorado’s politicians have only intensified the war between natural gas and the state. In fact, according to the Colorado Sun, the oil and gas industry had spent $34 million dollars combined to interfere in the 2018 midterm election within Colorado to support Republican candidates. An example of extreme spending was in 2017, during the Broomfield vote for Question 301, a measure that would “make health and safety greater priorities in the permitting of oil and gas operations,” where the oil and gas industry had spent $475,000 to sway public opinion by telling citizens that “outside interests are trying to influence city policy” ironic when you think about the disparity in spending when the two groups that supported Question 301 had to spend a combined total of $46,000 despite all this spending this ballot still managed to pass thus proving that money won’t be enough to prevent change. Waking up the oil and gas industry, realizing that their political influence may be a great danger, thus leading to today the battle between multiple corporate-run front groups with Republican candidates and climate change advocates with their progressive candidates. In fact, there are talks about natural gas vehicle infrastructure in Colorado for “energy independence,” using the crisis in Ukraine as justification. To undermine the expansion of infrastructure for electric vehicles. These NGVs are no better than diesel and are not suitable for the average consumer because of their high octane rating which is useful in high-performance race cars, but not your family’s SUV or van.