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Speakers mull options at energy expo

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs correspondent

If the United States is to achieve energy independence in the next 50 years, it will have to look for alternate sources to petroleum. That was the consensus of speakers at the Energy Forum and Expo Friday at the Two Rivers convention center in Grand Junction.

Energy is the driving force of the 21st century, said Tom Petrie, chief executive officer of Petrie, Parkman and Co., which analyzes energy market trends.

With world petroleum production either peaking in some places, or in decline in others, demand is rising, Petrie said. Asian countries such as China and India are driving demand up with their burgeoning economies.

“We are operating on a razor-thin margin,” Petrie said, between supply and demand.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita threw a huge wrench into the country’s oil supply from the Gulf of Mexico last year, some of which is a permanent loss.

Terrorism in the Middle East threatens oil supplies in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

And “dysfunctional” policy-making in Congress has set a “glacial” pace for access to undeveloped sources of crude oil, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he said.

What is wide open for development and undergoing a boom in another energy source ” natural gas ” is the Rocky Mountain region.

“It’s the most immature and under-exploited resource (area) in the nation,” Petrie said.

However natural gas in the Rocky Mountains remains relatively locked in by lack of long-distance pipelines to carry the product to the markets of the Midwest and east and west coasts.

In western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, two of the largest producers, EnCana and Williams, have stepped up with major financial commitments to construct large pipelines out of the basin, said John Harpole, president of Mercator Energy in Denver.

North America is seeing stiff competition for its own resources.

“I would argue that we’re in an energy and resource war and China is winning,” Harpole said.

China has contracted for crude oil from Alberta’s rich tar sands, an unconventional resource with similarities to oil shale.

Another unconventional source for energy, which appeared full of promise in the 1970s but fell very short of its potential due to political pressure, is nuclear. Although the United States remains the largest producer of nuclear-powered electricity, it is a source that is underutilized, said Fletcher Newton, chief executive officer of Power Resources Inc.

But its time may be coming.

“In the last 20 years the nuclear industry has become more efficient because it’s increased its capacity” to generate electricity, Newton said.

Although nuclear reactors are costly to build and have a six- to 10-year permitting process, once up and running are cheaper to operate than coal or natural gas-fired plants.

Containment buildings around nuclear reactors are “remarkably strong” and can take a direct hit by an aircraft or “any projectile,” Newton said.

Nuclear energy remains a major source of electricity in the world and developing nations such as China and India have plans to build reactors.

Uranium, which provides atomic power through nuclear fission, is seeing a resurgence in market price.

Prices “have quadrupled in the last five years,” Newton said.

Colorado’s West Slope, which saw a boom in uranium prospecting and mining in the 1960s and ’70s, could also see another run on uranium.

“It’s only a question of price,” Newton said.


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