Don’t sacrifice the Rockies |

Don’t sacrifice the Rockies

Are you ready? The next great political battle for oil and gas drilling will be right here in the Rocky Mountains.

The Bush Administration’s energy plan, as announced in March, placed the highest priority on new domestic energy exploration and development, specifically in three target areas: the Gulf of Mexico near Florida’s beaches, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Rocky Mountain region.

After one year of relentless efforts to promote its domestic drilling plans, the administration has been rebuffed in Florida and Alaska. First, the Florida voters and brother Jeb Bush convinced the president that drilling near their fabled beaches was not a proper reward for their electoral support. Then, last week, the Senate nixed drilling pans in the Arctic refuge, at least for now, by a narrow margin (54-45).

So it’s no surprise that Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states are now the biggest prize for new oil and gas leases. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there may be as much as 2 million barrels of oil and over 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas locked up in this multi-state region.

Thousands of new leases have already been issued during the past 12 months. The question, therefore, is not “To drill or not to drill,” but rather about WHERE and WHAT COST ?

Already the drum beat to put ever more public acres on the auction block is becoming louder every day. But hold off: Before we give in to political pressure from Washington and the oil and gas lobby and scare mongering about running out of oil, let’s remind the politicians and the drillers that the Rocky Mountain West is already wide open for business.

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In Colorado alone more than 85 percent of BLM lands, or 7.2 million acres, are already open to oil and gas exploration. This acreage does not include exploration of U.S. Forest lands and private property. The story is much the same in our neighboring states. How much is enough?

Less than 15 percent of Colorado BLM lands remains “off limits” to oil and gas exploration and other extractive activities. These are lands of outstanding scenic and natural beauty, including National Monuments, wilderness areas and wilderness study areas. There can be no compromise when it comes to continuing the ban of drilling and exploration in these special areas.

Sadly, however, the current energy debate in Washington is long on political rhetoric and catering to special interests and shamefully short on a bipartisan commitment to a long-term sustainable energy strategy.

The Congress, including Colorado’s senators and Western Colorado Rep. McInnis, dismally failed to support meaningful energy conservation proposals such as a gradual increase of gas mileage standards.

In the absence of an energy policy that truly represents our national interest and puts a high priority on conservation and alternative fuel sources, we should not accept ever more drilling pads on our public lands.

Let’s not sacrifice the Rocky Mountain region!

Gerry Vanderbeek

Glenwood Springs

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