Obama talks energy in Colorado, the West | AspenTimes.com
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Obama talks energy in Colorado, the West

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent
ALL |

DENVER ” Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Sunday he favors increased federal collaboration with communities affected by oil and gas development in Colorado and across the West.

Sustaining the other natural resources in the path of energy development should be another goal, he said.

Obama outlined his philosophy for future drilling in the United States during a brief interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent after he spoke in front of about 145,000 people in Civic Center Park in Denver.

Obama joined several Colorado Democrats ” U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.; Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa; Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs and Gov. Bill Ritter ” in panning the Bush administration for failing to listen to the concerns of Coloradans in the wake of critical oil and gas development decisions by the Bureau of Land Management in the state.

“I have been troubled by how the Bush administration approaches it, which seems to always have the scales tilted toward unbridled development without considering the views of local communities,” Obama said.

BLM actions that have garnered criticism include a plan to open about 360,000 acres to possible oil shale development in northwest Colorado and the sale of about 54,600 acres of the Roan Plateau, northwest of Rifle, for natural gas drilling. The latter is currently the focus of a lawsuit that pits 10 environmental groups against the BLM.

Those decisions could have dramatic effects on Garfield County, which already has about 5,050 active wells. Recent reports indicate that 1,000 new wells will be drilled in the county each year until 2015.

In addition, an estimated 1 trillion barrels of oil may be locked up in oil shale reserves in western Colorado’s Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties. Extracting the oil is a cause for concern, however, both for its environmental impacts and the process’ use of water and energy.

“When it comes to oil shale right now, I think we have to do more research and more science to discover whether or not the amount of oil that would be generated would justify what would inevitably be some disruption of the landscape here in Colorado,” the Illinois senator said.

However, Obama said it’s important for the country to develop its energy resources, and noted, “Colorado is blessed with a lot of natural resources.”

But Tom Kise, a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, said Obama has opposed exploration of domestic oil and natural gas at every turn.

“He has demonstrated a pattern of saying and doing whatever is his current audience wants to hear,” Kise said. “In San Francisco, he mocks us because it is to his benefit. In Colorado, he claims false western roots. He may say now that he is open to exploring for domestic sources of energy, but there is no way we can trust he will follow through on this. The facts on this are clear: Obama will say anything it takes to win the presidency.”

Obama outlined an approach to oil and gas development in Colorado and across the West that first focuses on increased collaboration, to make sure everyone “has a seat at the table.

“We want business interests there, but we also want conservationists there,” Obama said. “We want sportsmen, ranchers and hunters there. We want to make sure that, whether it’s the Roan Plateau or oil shale, that any approaches that we took we’re not disrupting, for example, our water resources, which are critical here in the West.”

A key priority in an Obama administration would be sustainability, he said. The senator said his travels through Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico led him to believe that it is important to make sure resources are still there for the next generation.

“If it comes to issues like timber, I say to myself that can be an important job generator, but I want to make sure that there are still forests there for the next generation,” Obama said. “If we are talking about how we are using our land resources, I want to make sure that however it is divvied up, through agriculture, human populations and development, whatever it is, that that water is still there for our kids and our grandkids.”

Obama also addressed concerns area residents have about growing oil and gas development, which one recent study said may be causing “an emergent health problem” for Garfield County residents.

The governments of Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Carbondale, and Pitkin and Eagle counties recently requested that a health impact assessment be included in a future land-use plan for the area. That plan is expected to affect oil and gas industry activity on hundreds of thousands of acres of the Western Slope over the next 10 to 15 years.

“If you have all the stakeholders involved in the decision-making and the federal government is serving as an honest broker in thinking these issues through, then the health of surrounding communities is absolutely vital, it is absolutely critical,” he said. “I know that if I am raising a family next to any kind of facility, I just want to have some assurances that it is not going to have an adverse impact.

“I want to make sure that the science hasn’t been doctored, or it hasn’t been shaded, or it hasn’t been tweaked in ways that predetermine the answer,” he said. “One of the things I hope would be a hallmark of an Obama administration is a restoration of the importance of science and how we make decisions ” something that hasn’t always been the case in this administration.”

pyates@postindependent.com


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