Marble: Let’s build an oil refinery

State Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, is promoting what sounds like an interesting, if controversial, idea: the construction of a “modular” oil refinery in Northern Colorado.

The political newcomer — who describes herself as a “fracking-loving person” — told an audience at a recent Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance luncheon that Northern Colorado should follow North Dakota’s lead and build refineries to lower gasoline prices.

“Without refineries being built, our gas prices are still going to remain high,” she said. “We’re going to be taking that oil and gas overseas to be refined … and then bringing it back here.”

“That puts quite a price on something that should be affordable,” she added.

Marble made her remarks at the NCLA’s annual agenda-setting meeting, which was held earlier this month. The NCLA is the lobbying arm of the Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland chambers of commerce and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp.

Modular refineries can process 30,000 barrels of crude oil daily for use in local markets, lowering gasoline prices, Marble said. The smaller refineries take less time to build than traditional ones.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, a site dedicated to helping us find the lowest gas prices at the pump, thinks Marble’s idea is likely to run into trouble on several counts.

First, there’s the not-in-my-backyard crowd to worry about. Refineries, modular or otherwise, are not the prettiest things to have in the ‘hood.

Also, it just might prove difficult to entice companies to build refineries. DeHaan believes they would already have been constructed if the oil industry believed it could profit from them.

“It’s not a bad idea, but you still have to have somebody follow through and build these,” he said. “That’s going to remain the problem.”

Moreover, the presence of local refineries, though they might contribute to lower gasoline prices, would not necessarily guarantee less pain at the pump. That’s because refineries can operate at whatever capacity they choose, DeHaan said.

“When supply starts to balloon, you can bet that refinery starts seeing its margins erode and that entices them to stop production, or slow it down,” he said.

One more point to consider: Marble’s comments come as Colorado boasts among the lowest gasoline prices in the nation.

The problem with numbers

One of the problems with using social media to quickly share complicated information as it’s being presented is that, well, once every while you post something that’s wrong.

That happened the other day on the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp.’s Twitter feed. The nonprofit inaccurately tweeted that the Fort Collins and Loveland areas made “the greatest positive impact on per capita income in the past 40 years compared to statewide averages.”

The posting was made during a presentation by Colorado Springs-based economist Tom Binnings at the Business Report’s 2013 Economic Forecast earlier this month.

In front of an audience of more than 460, Binnings cited a graph in his PowerPoint presentation that clearly showed Boulder leading Colorado metropolitan areas in per-capita income growth.

Binnings broke down the graph in a phone interview following the event. Since the early 1970s, Fort Collins per-capita income has grown by 12 percentage points vs. Boulder’s 17 percentage points, he said.

Binnings, by the way, said he was intrigued by how far Fort Collins has come despite its lower per capita income growth.

“It was a pretty sleepy university/ag town,” he said. “I’m much more impressed with what Fort Collins has done as opposed to Boulder, even though Boulder’s (per-capita income growth) may look a little bit more dramatic.”

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