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Q&A: Bentley Working to Safely Harness Colorado Energy

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 4, 2015

The Colorado Petroleum Council and its new executive director, Tracee Bentley, recently opened a new office in Denver, where the council will focus on growing energy priorities in the state. A Colorado native, Bentley served as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s legislative director and senior advisor on energy and agricultural issues before coming to API. Below, Bentley talks with Energy Tomorrow about opportunities and challenges facing the council and her role as the organization’s leader.

Q: What do Coloradoans think about the state’s energy potential? Is it something people are aware of, and what do you believe they want most from industry as it develops that energy? What are the key “education” points needed to build a strong partnership between industry and Coloradoans?

traceeBentley: Coloradans know their state is blessed in terms of energy.  And they’re aware of the importance of energy development to the state’s economy. Even with the recent downturn, oil and natural gas development remains a crucial contributor economic growth, adding $26 billion to the state economy and supporting 213,100 jobs – or nearly 7 percent of total state employment. School districts in Colorado received nearly $202 million from oil and gas production property taxes in 2012 alone, according to a study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Coloradoans want the same things people in other energy-producing states want. They want assurances that development will be safe, and that operators will hear and respond to their concerns. The Colorado Petroleum Council helps this relationship by providing factual information on safe energy development. One of our priorities is to demystify things like hydraulic fracturing. We’re here to explain it and to reassure communities and individuals that it has been going on for decades, is an advanced, precise technology and that the combination of state regulations and industry standards is keeping energy development safe to residents, water supplies and the local environment.

Energy development is driving growth in Colorado. More than 1,100 businesses spread across the state are part of the larger oil and natural gas supply chain, which includes over 260 companies in Denver and more than 70 companies in Grand Junction. Those numbers are quite a feat for any place not called Houston. When our economy was threatened by anti-energy ballot initiatives, a large coalition of businesses and organizations representing a diverse array of interests banded together to support responsible energy development.

Q: What’s it like moving from state government to an energy trade organization?

Bentley: It’s been interesting. I was familiar with virtually all of the important energy issues that are being discussed here from my role in the governor’s office. As Colorado climbed out of the great recession, it was the energy industry that provided stability and assurances from the state’s perspective, and now I am seeing this as a member of industry.

Colorado has a strong energy tradition, as I described above, and there is a history of professional partnership between industry and state officials, to ensure safe and responsible development. I feel like my experience in state government will help me advance industry goals. These include making sure that the state’s regulatory regime remains common-sense in its approach and science based, and that the state’s regulatory and permitting systems continue to be efficient and predictable, which will help promote private energy investment. As the oil and gas task force considers Colorado energy policy and recommendations, I believe I’m uniquely situated to be involved in a number of ways.

Q: What are the strengths of Colorado’s energy regulatory regime?

Bentley: Strong environmental stewardship at the state level has produced effective, state-specific regulations around the country, and Colorado is no exception. Colorado has extensive hydraulic fracturing regulations in place, along with experienced officials to implement them. The great thing about Colorado is that many operators have worked with state regulators and local officials for a long time and have extensive experience addressing local concerns.

Effective regulation results when regulators and those who are regulated can work together to ensure safe development. We have that here. It’s good for Colorado, for the people who live here and for industry. Our regulatory framework includes enhanced opportunity for local participation and input through the use of “local government designees,” a process unique to Colorado.

Q: Talk about the opportunities for women and minorities in the energy industry in Colorado.

Bentley: We have a great opportunity here, starting with jobs and economic growth. A significant number of workers will be needed to fill existing jobs, created by what we in industry call the “great crew change.” That is a 7- to 10-year period when roughly half of the industry’s current technical personnel will retire. So there’s a window opening for young and talented workers who seek careers in an industry that pays well and offers the potential for significant upward mobility. This is especially true for minorities and women, though there are opportunities in the oil and natural gas industry for all Americans.

The key is preparing these workers for industry roles by emphasizing STEM education and related disciplines as a national priority. There are many examples of how the oil and natural gas industry continues to lead the change we seek. Recently, we brought our work to Denver by engaging a broad range of stakeholders, including the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trade union, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, leaders in vocational education and universities and, four-year and community colleges through an eight city tour that highlights the career opportunities in the oil and natural gas industry.

In May, we will launch our Womens’ Initiative which will consist of a series of events aimed at thought leaders, students either getting ready to graduate or who’ve recently graduated from high school, and middle schoolers who may be interested in STEM. This will be the first of its kind, and we are very excited to be debuting it right here in Colorado.

The Energizing American Communities eight city tour has visited Chicago, Bakersfield, Philadelphia, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Detroit, Denver and Charlotte. The tour brought into focus for local education and business leaders, students and their parents and educators, the career possibilities available in the oil and natural gas industry and how they can contribute to America’s energy renaissance.

Q: Talk about Colorado’s role in the U.S. energy revolution.

Bentley: Colorado ranks 7th in oil and 6th in natural gas production. That makes Colorado one of the nation’s top energy-producing states. Colorado’s emergence as a major player in the American energy resurgence has a big impact on the state economy – and big implications for the national energy conversation. 

As a key presidential swing state, Colorado is in the spotlight. Our energy policy choices have the potential to contribute to or to undermine America’s energy resurgence.

Q: What are the most important challenges facing the oil and natural gas industry in Colorado, and describe the state petroleum council’s role in meeting those challenges.

Bentley: Really, this boils down to a few things: gaining access to energy reserves for safe and responsible development, maintaining commonsense regulatory frameworks and, as I talked about before, continuing to build relationships with communities and individual Coloradans.

With the right policy choices, Colorado can continue to play a pivotal role in an American energy revival that supports 9.8 million jobs and significantly enhances our energy security as measured by plummeting imports and lower fuel prices. In addition to the vast economic benefits of surging production, greater availability of clean-burning natural gas has helped drive carbon emissions to near 20-year lows.

Eight in 10 American voters support increased domestic energy development and 90 percent agree greater access to oil and natural gas resources leads to more American jobs. They understand that energy is not a Republican or a Democrat issue but a jobs and security issue.

By keeping our energy policy grounded in the facts, Colorado can continue to grow our economy, secure jobs in the state and help keep America’s game-changing energy revolution going strong.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.