Mountain States

Colorado School of Mines Officials Debunk Colleague’s ‘Misleading’ Prop 112 Land Access Claims

A pair of Colorado School of Mines (CSM) faculty members have strongly rebuked a recent commentary by one of their colleagues that claims the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) finding that Proposition 112 would render 85 percent of Colorado non-public lands off limits to future oil and gas development is overstated by nearly 300 percent.

CSM adjunct faculty member Dr. Will Fleckenstein – who Denver7 referred to in a recent story as “the most unbiased expert we could find” – and CSM Petroleum Engineering Department head Dr. Jennifer Miskimins assert in their response to Dr. Peter Maniloff’s commentary that his conclusion that 42 percent of non-federal land would be open to development should Prop 112 pass is “misleading “ and simply “not true”:

“We both have read Dr. Maniloff’s note on the impacts of Proposition 112. This note contains a map that has been seized by some proponents of Proposition 112 as evidence that the oil industry is misleading the public that much more of the state would be open to development than claimed by opponents, and therefore the impact would not be a devastating economic blow to both the oil industry and the state’s economy. We find that this claim is not true.”

“Dr. Maniloff’s map includes the subsurface areas that could be accessed, and he states that ‘42 % of the non-federal subsurface would be accessible.’ However, we find this to be a misleading statement, and other similar statements in the press as well.”

Prop 112 proponents have seized upon Maniloff’s commentary in an effort to validate their narrative that the COGCC’s estimate is industry-generated hyperbole and that the measure “is absolutely not a ban on the industry.” But Fleckenstein and Miskimis’ rebuke — along with the fact that the group behind Prop 112, Colorado Rising, recently hosted national “Keep It In the Ground” celebrities Josh Fox, Bill McKibben and Sandra Steingraber — confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that Prop 112 is about banning as much future Colorado oil and gas development as possible.

Maniloff’s piece argues that horizontal drilling potentially increases accessibility to subsurface areas that the COGCC report determines are off limits. But Fleckenstein and Miskimins note that their colleague’s commentary is only theoretically relevant and fails to take into account real-world factors such as adequate surface access needed for well pads and infrastructure, such as flowlines. From Fleckenstein and Miskimins’ rebuttal:

“Regardless of how far you can horizontally drill, the subsurface still can’t be accessed in the most important areas, since you still have to have a surface area to drill from. Additionally, there is a technical and efficient limit as to how far horizontal wells can actually be drilled. The surface access is the key.”

“The drilling engineers can move that surface location some distance from the ‘perfect’ surface location, but the surface access has to be close to where the horizontal well starts. It is that lack of surface access, regardless of the length of the horizontal well, that will cause Colorado’s oil production to quickly drop, along with the associated revenues.”

Fleckenstein and Miskimins also take Maniloff to task for failing to convey the fact that a vast majority of the 42 percent of non-federal land he claims would still be accessible for development should Prop 112 pass is located in the western portion of the state – hundreds of miles away from the “sweet spots” located in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. In other words, though horizontal drilling laterals can extend up to three miles, there is no conceivable way laterals can extend hundreds of miles from a vast majority of the surface locations that would remain accessible should Prop 112 pass to subsurface areas with significant oil and natural gas production potential.

It is with the latter facts in mind that Fleckenstein and Miskimins note that although the following maps from Maniloff’s commentary (left) and the COGCC (right) appear to indicate far different land access estimates, they are actually quite similar.

“Although these appear to be different in content, for the purposes of Proposition 112, they are identical in impact.”

Prop 112 proponents have claimed the complete opposite, saying Maniloff’s map “shows that these are exaggerated claims meant to work people into a fever pitch.” As Colorado Rising’s Anne Lee Foster claimed in a recent televised debate,

“This only restricts surface development, and that’s why a lot of these maps that we’re seeing from COGA [it’s actually a COGCC map] are very misleading, because they don’t convey what is actually accessible through directional drilling.”

Even Maniloff acknowledged the issues flagged by his colleagues in his commentary. By Maniloff’s own admission, his analysis doesn’t take into consideration engineering constraints that render its topline conclusion that 42 percent on non-federal lands could still be developed infeasible.

“An important caveat is that restricting oil and gas operations to a small portion of the surface would impose substantial operational difficulties. These include constraints on reservoir engineering (the ability to place wellbores to maximize production), as well as potentially requiring additional infrastructure such as new roads and utilities (if wells are effectively required to be far from utilities.”

“Furthermore, this analysis does not consider the varying quality of resources – in particular, the sweet spot of the Denver-Julesburg basin largely coincides with the densely populated areas which would generally be inaccessible under Prop 112.”

In other words – the COGCC’s assessment that 85 percent of non-federal lands in the state would be off limits for future development should Prop 112 pass was spot-on. And even more significantly, an even higher percentage of land in areas with significant oil and gas development potential would be off limits. As the COGCC correctly noted in its report,

“In Colorado’s top five oil and gas producing counties combined, 61% of the surface acreage (94% of non-federal land) would be unavailable.”

As EID has previously noted, 78 percent in Weld County – which accounts for 90 percent of the state’s oil production and 39 percent of its natural gas production – would be off limits. And in in Colorado’s next four top producing counties, the percentage is even higher, as the Grand Junction Sentinel recently reported,

“In three of those counties, Garfield (99.8 percent), La Plata (99.9 percent), and Rio Blanco (99.8 percent), nearly all non-federal surface area would be removed from potential development, with Las Animas just behind, losing 96.6 percent of its non-federal surface area to the new buffer zone.”

Miskimins and Fleckenstein suggest in their rebuttal that Maniloff’s commentary might have been politically motivated and that voters deserve to know what objective science shows,

“Our role as faculty members at Mines is not to advocate but to educate and to ensure that the debate on the subject is factual and honest, and to help interpret the gray areas.”

We agree wholeheartedly with Miskimins and Fleckenstein and commend them for attempting to set the record straight as the Nov. 6 election nears.



  • Randy Verret
    Posted at 10:21h, 23 October Reply

    Let’s face it. The industry has done a poor job educating the public over the past 5-10 years at the grass roots level. When PEW polls indicate the oil & gas has as low an approval rating as Congress, you don’t get much sympathy. You couple that with the ongoing urban development in the DJ Basin and a lot of newcomers unfamiliar with oil & gas operations and you have all the ingredients on the front range for a successful Prop 112. It remains to be seen if the voters (statewide) are nuanced enough to make a rational, fully informed decision.

    That said, with the ongoing (seemingly effective) “vilification” program of fossil fuels, perhaps it’s time that an area suffer some REAL PAIN as a consequence of a short-sighted decision. The oversimplification of energy issues and “Easy Button” pseudo solutions spewed out by the environmental NGO’s & their attendant activists will have real consequences. Whether it’s possible natural gas shortages in the northeast this winter due to FERC pipeline obstructions or a de-facto drilling ban in Colorado, careful what you wish for. THAT, and just remember the names of the activists & organizations that foisted those unneeded results on the public once all this starts to unravel…

    • Aaron Burr
      Posted at 13:43h, 31 October Reply

      I agree with your entire post except for the aside about Northeast pipeline development/FERC obstructions. Such is simply not the case, there is something like 8 Bcf/d of new capacity currently under construction in the region alone, which will soon join the nearly 8 Bcf/d which has come into service over the past year alone. There is an overbuild taking place before our very eyes. FERC is about as un-obstructionist as they come, their job is not to stand in the way of pipeline development and so far they are doing their job with aplomb.

  • Ian Hogan
    Posted at 12:20h, 23 October Reply

    This is in response to the article that recently came out claiming that the impact of Prop 112 on oil and natural gas development is overstated. The report tries to show this by drawing large circles around any small area that isn’t off limits by 112 and claims that anything within that circle can be reached by a horizontal well. It’s not that simple.

    Prop 112 states that “ALL NEW OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT” must take place outside of setback areas. It also states that “REENTRY OF AN OIL OR GAS WELL PREVIOUSLY PLUGGED OR ABANDONED IS CONSIDERED NEW OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT”. This means that old abandoned wells in setback areas can no longer be reentered to be properly plugged. This is going to be a serious problem as housing development expands into existing oil fields and there will be no way to plug abandoned wells. That appears to be an unintended consequence of a poorly written measure.

    The other consequence, which probably is intentional, is that oil and gas companies cannot properly plug old abandoned wells before drilling a new horizontal. Before drilling a horizontal well an operator will evaluate every existing well within a minimum of 1500 feet of the new well path. Any well that was not properly plugged needs to be re-entered and taken care of. If the operator cannot do this, they cannot drill the new horizontal. The thing about oil fields is that there are a lot of existing vertical wells. Even if an operator can find a small island outside a setback area to drill horizontally from, there will almost always be vertical wells along the horizontal well paths that may need to be re-entered. With no way to re-enter those vertical wells, there’s no way to drill the new horizontals. By not taking any of this in consideration this report is extremely misleading.

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