In Colorado, leading Republican figures and oil and gas industry executives are claiming stricter environmental regulations have caused gas prices to increase. However, an examination of that claim shows that it is a misleading argument.

The Argument: Enviro Regulations Cause High Gas Prices

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) blamed high gas prices on the Democratic party last week.

Kristi Burton Brown, chair of the Colorado Republican Party, tweeted last week that policies passed by the Democratic Party are responsible for high gas prices.

“In 2020 Democrats blamed President Trump and the Republicans for COVID,” Burton Brown tweeted. “And now they expect not to be blamed for record-high inflation, gas prices, and violent crime — all caused by their policies?! Laughable.”

A different tweet from Burton Brown.

Erik Aadland, a former executive for an oil and gas company and candidate for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, tweeted criticism towards Joe Biden last week.

“The Biden administration has done everything in its power to demonize oil and natural gas companies and de-incentivize production in the US, from killing to Keystone XL, revoking leases on federal lands and in the Gulf of Mexico and encouraging undue litigation,” Aadland tweeted.

Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, thanked Joe O’Dea, a candidate for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat, for blaming high gas prices on environmental regulations.

The Numbers Don’t Support These Claims

When taking a closer look at oil and gas production in the United States and Colorado, however, it becomes clear that complex factors, which are not influenced by Colorado laws or leaders, dwarf the impact, if any, of state environmental regulations on the price of gas.

First, oil and gas are being produced in the U.S. at a high rate. U.S. oil and gas production reached a record high in late 2019 but fell during the pandemic. Projections from oil and gas experts show that domestic production should still surpass that 2019 high by early 2023.

Chart originally published by Axios and can be viewed here. Chart: Sara Wise/Axios.

It should also be noted that there are over 9,000 approved oil and gas permits on public lands in the U.S. and just under 3,000 approved permits in Colorado ready to be drilled. And private drilling has not been maximized.

These permits — both in Colorado and nationwide — are not being used primarily because of pressure from Wall Street oil investors to restrain how much they drill and prioritize shareholder earnings over oil production.

The argument that Democratic policies have limited opportunity for drilling in the U.S. falls short when you look at the actions of Democratic political leaders. Joe Biden approved more permits in his first year in office than any other President, topping Donald Trump’s record.

Also, since Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) has been in office, Colorado has approved 4,605 oil and gas form 2 permits to drill and denied just one. 

Ignoring the fact that thousands of drilling permits are unused, industry representatives across the U.S. claim environmental regulations  — like the ones in place in Colorado — limit drilling. It’s true that limits exist for environmental and safety reasons.

But in Colorado, Republican and industry officials who’ve responded to the Ukrainian war by saying they want to loosen drilling limits don’t specify which regulations they want rescinded and the resultant risks and hazards they believe are tolerable.

For example, the denied oil and gas permit referenced earlier was rejected by Colorado’s oil and gas commission because it was within 2,000 feet of a home or school.

In fact, arguments from the oil and gas industry and Republicans often ignore the larger context of the disastrous effect large-scale oil and gas production has on global warming in the long term and the health of individuals in the short term.

Over the past week, oil prices per barrel have actually decreased over the past week due to COVID-related lockdowns in China. However, gas prices are remaining high.

According to oil and gas industry experts, the primary reasons for gas price increases are the COVID-19 pandemic and global supply chain issues, along with oil producers taking advantage of a global supply crunch in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

gas prices
Photo credit: Dawn McDonald

Colorado Enviro Groups Respond

Environmental advocacy groups took issue with the claim that environmental regulations have caused gas prices to increase.

Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, deputy director of the  Colorado League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC), an environmental advocacy group that focuses on those impacted by the negative environmental effects of oil and gas production, pointed to the high oil and gas production in the U.S. and the high amounts of approved drilling leases in Colorado as evidence the industry is making misleading claims.

“I think it’s really, really important for people to know that oil and gas development in Colorado happens at the whim of the operator,” Forkes-Gudmundson said. “They have so many permits they could be drilling. If they wanted to drill more, they absolutely could. They just don’t. And that’s because these companies are profiting grossly off of this crisis. Gas prices are up and they like making money.”

Forkes-Gudmundson rejected the idea that environmental regulations are causing the high gas prices to remain high in the U.S.

“If you want to blame somebody for high gas prices you should blame Putin and the oil industry,” Forkes-Gudmundson said. “That’s it. Regulations have nothing to do with it.”

Kate Christensen is the oil and gas campaign director for 350 Colorado, an environmental advocacy group hoping to limit fossil fuel production in the state. Christensen explained that the biggest oil giants made $205 billion last year.

“I would argue that, rather than hurting oil and gas companies, the Biden administration is giving some massive, supportive handouts to the oil and methane industry,” Christensen said. “They just gave billions of dollars of taxpayer money to pay to clean up abandoned oil and gas infrastructure.”

Biden’s infrastructure bill allocated $4.7 billion to help clean up orphaned oil and gas wells across the country. In January, Colorado requested $25 million of that funding.

“Given the massively great year that industry had last year and is having this year, it seems like they should be able to pay to clean up after themselves, rather than have taxpayers do it,” Christensen said. “It’s another example of oil and gas profiteering off of average consumers, just like the rising gas prices.”

As an example of how Colorado has been overly fair to the oil and gas industry, despite industry talking points, Christensen referenced Polis’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Roadmap. The plan was criticized by Colorado environmental groups last year for being too lenient on oil and gas operators.

“Polis is also super supportive of oil and gas. His plan for reducing greenhouse gases includes increasing oil and gas production in the state through 2030. It makes no sense, from a climate perspective.”

Christensen, like Forkes-Gudmundson, flat-out rejected claims that environmental regulations were to blame for high gas prices.

“I wish the oil and gas industry and some politicians were correct,” Christensen said. “I wish that our government’s policies were reigning in oil and gas companies so much that they reduced production and we quit burning so many fossil fuels. For our planet to survive we need to phase out fossil fuel production as quickly as possible. That’s the science. But that is not what is actually happening, no matter what the industry wants to pretend. When CEOs and shareholders have to take pay cuts rather than get massive bonuses — that’ when I’ll believe any regulation could possibly be impacting the industry.”