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Obama talks energy issues

Phillip Yates
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Denver, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentA crowd estimated to be about 145,000 strong spilled out of Civic Center Park and up to the steps of the Colorado State Capital to listen to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speak in Denver on Sunday.
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DENVER, Colorado – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said a top priority he has for future oil and gas development in Colorado and across the American West would be to increase federal collaboration with communities and groups touched by drilling.

Another goal would be to maintain the sustainability of resources caught up in the development of Western lands, he said Sunday.

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. A massive throng of people swelled across the entire park, with the mass of people spreading all the way to the steps of the Colorado Capitol.



Obama’s statements about federal oil and gas drilling seem to echo comments made by U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, and Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter earlier this year. All four Democrats have been critical of the Bush administration this year for not listening to the concerns of Colorado 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 towards unbridled development without considering the views of local communities,” Obama said.



The BLM actions the Colorado Democrats have blasted this year 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, which is northwest of Rifle, for natural gas drilling. The area, home to wildlife like the genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout, 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.

Obama outlook on oil shale in Colorado also seems to track with the positions of the Salazars, Udall and Ritter. It is estimated that there is close to 1 trillion barrels of oil locked up in oil shale reserves in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties.



However, many local residents worry about the environmental impacts oil shale development could cause, and how much water and energy would be needed to keep it going.

“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 is important for the county to develop its natural resources, and that “Colorado is blessed with a lot of natural resources.”

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.”

His priorities

Obama said he had two main ways to approach oil and gas development in Colorado and across the West. The first would be for 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.”

The second key priority in a possible Obama administration is sustainability, he said. He added 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 asked a health impact assessment to 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 Western Slope land for 10-15 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.”

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

pyates@postindependent.com


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