GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - A new executive action by President Joe Biden could impact hundreds of oil and gas operators on Colorado's Western Slope. The president issued a moratorium on new federal leases, and maybe nowhere will the impact be felt more than in Garfield County. It has the second largest natural gas reserve in the country, but drilling has begun to dry up over the last couple of years as gas prices have plummeted.
State Sen. Bob Rankin represents Garfield County and is worried that between the new federal moratorium and new state rules, what's left of the industry is doomed.
"I believe the gas industry in Western Colorado may just collapse," he said.
Many of the operators, he says, are small business owners who employ thousands of people in Garfield.
"These are small companies. Many of them will just cease, go bankrupt, go out of business."
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky says they're already seeing layoffs.
"I know of families who are leaving for jobs elsewhere."
Jankovsky says Garfield County received about $3 million from federal land leases in 2018. This year it's expecting about $600,000. Overall, he says oil and gas accounts for 25% of the county's revenue, and it has dropped from about $20 million to $12 million.
"We'll have to cut services because we just don't have the funds."
He says they've already cut 20 jobs. Special districts -- fire, police and hospitals -- he says will be hit even harder.
"This is the nail in the coffin so to speak."
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, who applauds the president's action, says, with or without government, the country is transitioning away from overuse of fossil fuels.
"I don't think this singular action is going to ruin a community," Fenberg said.
Fenberg says the state is providing resources to re-train laid off workers, and local governments, he says, need to adapt.
"A lot of the communities that are reliant on fossil fuel extraction over the years are also the communities that are the most hardest hit by climate impacts. Where there's a lot of oil and gas drilling, there's also a lot of wildfires."
Jankovsy says natural gas is part of the climate solution.
"I'm not a climate denier by any means." He says demand for natural gas isn't going away and neither should the jobs. "The jobs we're losing are six figure jobs."
Environmentalists counter that operators currently hold thousands of leases they aren't even using.
Dan Haley with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association -- an industry trade group -- says many of those operators are seeking investors or are awaiting permits. He says the president's directive hurts not only the industry but the country.
"I would encourage President Biden to come out here to have conversations with the families that are producing the energy that is powering this country to learn how we're doing it cleaner, better and safer than anywhere. If you're going to eliminate or hurt that opportunity to develop that product locally, you're going to hurt the environment and that's counter to what he says he wants to do."
Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit to stop the president's action.
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