DNR prepares for oil shale rush

Despite the nearly universal fascination with money, almost nobody wants to read a state budget story. So all but the wonkiest of policy wonks had better stop now.

This budget story is about the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, an agency whose roughly $200 million budget represents only about 1.13 percent of the state’s $17.8 billion overall.But DNR has several functions that are extremely important in both economic and environmental terms. About 55 percent of the agency’s budget deals with wildlife and parks, ten percent with oil, gas and minerals, and 15 percent with water resources. The remainder is mostly costs associated with the executive directors’ office, health care and the like.

Since 2005, DNR requested $183.2 million for the 2007-08 fiscal year, and increase of just under 13 percent from 2005-2006, and up about 3 percent from last year.

The largest single item in DNR’s budget is the Division of Wildlife. $80.8 million for this coming year, if staff recommendations are approved, it makes up about 40 percent of all spending. But while DOW is large, it’s proportion of the DNR budget is shrinking.

The part that’s growing is the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which went from about $4 million in 2005-06 to nearly $8 million this year. The increase reflects the increased activity for oil and gas in the state. It also includes $1.5 million a year for emergency response and $500,000 for environmental protection and mitigation studies.

According to the Joint Budget Committee working document, “Oil and gas industry growth in Colorado is driving increased workload for the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and increased revenue for the State from severance tax.” The Division requested nearly $600,000 in funds and four new employees to address the workload. The staff recommended approval of this amount.

DNR apparently believes that the long-delayed promise of oil shale is about to be realized. Scattered through the budget in several different line items is nearly $1 million of oil shale-related funding. The money includes about $128,000 for legal fees, nearly $400,000 for Geological Survey positions and more than $200,000 for the Division of mining, reclamation and safety, all to put the state on a solid footing when (and if) the promise of shale oil is finally realized.

We’ve prepared a spreadsheet from the JBC staff documents covering all of the DNR budget. Send an email to dswhipple@earthlink.net if you’d like a copy to juggle the numbers yourself.