If you work in Colorado’s oil and gas sector, I have good and bad news: The good news is that our state is headed for a healthier, cleaner and more diverse energy future. The bad news is that it’s time to find a new job.
I recognize that the suggestion to find new work won’t sit well with some, but I assure you, it’s necessary. Since the dawn of human existence, society has modernized. Throughout this process, we’ve seen countless technologies rise and fall. Now, it’s fossil fuels on the chopping block, and the grand finale has long been written on the proverbial wall.
The first signs of failure began as early as the 1800s, when scientists began to unravel the mystery of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Since then, more than a century of scientific evidence has proved that oil and gas operations would become problematic, to no avail. That fossil fuel use has lasted as long as it has is a failure of epic proportions, mostly thanks to decades of lobbying by wealthy companies and the lawmakers who were so easily bought out.
In some ways, this delay has provided oil and gas workers additional time to prepare for the seismic shift in work skills. And some workers have taken advantage of this opportunity, transitioning to jobs in other sectors. This was smart.
Yet far too many workers in this sector have become wrongly convinced that fossil fuels will remain a necessary technology, prompting them to fight for their jobs. It’s understandable to not want to give up, but this false belief only makes fossil fuel companies richer while putting hard-working Coloradans in a jam. After all, as the end of burning carbon draws nearer those not changing with the times risk getting left behind.
In Colorado, the end of oil and gas operations might come sooner rather than later. In recent years, a slew of local and federal efforts have been set in motion to protect and transition the state toward the use of alternate energy sources.
As these new rules begin to work in tandem, the future of fossil fuels in Colorado becomes less and less certain, placing any remaining workers at risk of sudden job loss as companies eventually choose to withdraw from the state or get forced out.
This path to extinction for fossil fuels was once again hammered home as a recent proposal announced by the Bureau of Land Management seeks to shrink the amount of public lands available for oil and gas extraction permits.
The move is a bold and long overdue step in the right direction, although it does not fully eliminate fossil fuel permits, and it would completely reprioritize how public lands in the western part of the state are utilized. It’s great.
Of course, fewer permits likely means fewer jobs and many long-time local workers might find themselves suddenly scrambling to the unemployment line if they haven’t made new work arrangements in advance.
Other factors that are likely to expedite Colorado’s transition away from oil and gas include renewed attention by the Environmental Protection Agency to lower Colorado’s unhealthy levels of air pollution, a statewide greenhouse gas reduction plan that aims to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and increased community interest in closing the state’s sole oil and gas refinery for decades of pollution violations.
Again, all of these efforts are necessary and good, with more likely to follow. But the inevitable end of fossil fuel operations in the state will almost certainly leave a handful of diehard workers in the dust.
It’s worth noting that my push to encourage oil and gas workers to transition early is not political, it’s personal. Once upon a time, my family and friends worked in the formerly thriving pulp and paper industry. As that industry fell on hard times, the economic reality of losing work became all too real for my community. In the end, many struggled to make ends meet, often for years.
It’s for this reason that I encourage fellow Coloradans to find new work now rather than later. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
As to how to transition and to what, that’s a decision best left to individuals and local leaders. From what I saw in my community, recovery will be different for different people and different parts of the state.
What I do know is that oil and gas development is definitely not the future of Colorado, and those in the business would be wise to get out before it’s too late.
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