Rising gas prices may be used by Congress | VailDaily.com

Rising gas prices may be used by Congress

Environmentalists expect congressional leaders to try to take advantage of motorists’ anger over high gas prices to renew a battle to open more public lands to drilling in Colorado and throughout the West.With gas topping $2 per gallon at the pump – and prices running significantly higher in places like Vail and Aspen – Congress will try to tap public opinion to earn support for more lenient regulations on oil and gas exploration and production, said Jim Waltman, director of refuges and wildlife programs at The Wilderness Society. Republican leaders want to use the high prices to their political advantage, he claimed.”Their goal is to shift the blame to the other party and the environmental regulations they’re associated with,” Waltman said. He predicted the public won’t buy the “energy price blame game.”The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote next week on a broad energy bill that has passed in that chamber once but failed in the U.S. Senate. A separate but related bill proposes opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling – a contentious issue that has garnered national scrutiny in the past.The Wilderness Society went on the offensive against the bills Thursday by contending that there isn’t enough oil and natural gas in the western United States and Alaska to “dent” global production and influence prices.Pete Morton, a resource economist with The Wilderness Society in Denver, claimed the oil and gas industry doesn’t face a shortage of land it can tap into. There are 42 million acres of public lands under lease nationally, but only 11 million acres or 26 percent are producing, Morton said, citing Wilderness Society studies of public documents.In the West, 32 percent of leased parcels of public land are producing. In Colorado, oil and gas companies hold leases on 4.4 million acres but are producing on only 1.3 million acres or 30 percent, he said.The lack of drilling rigs and shortage of materials has been a bigger impediment to drilling than lack of available land, Morton said.It doesn’t make sense, he added, that the federal government would consider leasing public land in pristine areas that might be eligible for wilderness protections when so much land that’s already leased is untapped.

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