Colorado has an opportunity to show the nation how the energy industry, regulators and environmental groups can work together, but the state's administration is "exploiting our worst fears instead of providing leadership to bring us together," a Denver-based natural resources attorney charged last week.
Michael L. Beatty, who chairs the law firm Beatty & Wozniak, took the podium at the Rocky Mountain Energy Epicenter to lambaste Gov. Bill Ritter's administration and its apparent lack of understanding about the value of the natural gas industry to the state's economy. The 20th annual conference was cosponsored by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
Beatty grabbed the audience's attention with what has clearly become one of the hottest issues in the state, which pits the growing energy industry against Ritter, a Democrat, as well as the state's regulators and legislators. At the center of the battle is the work under way by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which in March unveiled draft regulations to restructure the state's energy rules; the final rules are scheduled to take effect Nov. 1 (see NGI, June 23). The state already is suffering from a public relations standpoint. Colorado last month lost its No. 1 ranking as the most attractive destination worldwide for oil and natural gas investment, according to the Fraser Institute's Global Petroleum Survey 2008 (see NGI, June 30).
Beatty, who served as chief of staff to Democratic Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, is "struck by the incredible difference in how our nation has been able to bridge the racial divide, but still remain paralyzed by energy issues." Two political parties working together enacted sweeping civil rights legislation in the 1960s, he noted, but a generation later, energy issues have led to a huge rift, and "bipartisanship is lacking in Colorado and our nation."
Colorado "has the unique opportunity to show the nation we can work together," said Beatty. "We have both a very strong environmental tradition and a huge tap of resources, which is natural gas. Both sides have the opportunity to work together. But we are not leading the way, we are fighting. Many Coloradans are clearly conflicted..." And the Colorado Assembly is "furious, frustrated and forgotten because of the active hostility of the current administration."
The Ritter administration appears to have gone out of its way to discourage natural gas development, said Beatty.
"Natural gas is not part of the economic vision for Colorado," Beatty said, pointing to the Colorado Climate Action Plan, whose strategy is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 20% by 2020. The report, which was released last November, called natural gas "a key element in our bridge strategies to a cleaner energy future for Colorado." The report noted that Colorado contains 8% of the nation's gas reserves with proven reserves of 16 Tcf, "but the future production of these reserves must occur in a balanced and responsible manner that preserves our environment and protects our quality of life."
In Beatty's view, the Ritter administration slighted the natural gas industry in the report.
Natural gas "is called a bridge fuel when we have 16 Tcf," he said of Colorado's reserves. "In short, in the plan to reduce CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions, gas is viewed as a problem, not a solution. Coal, on the other hand, remains part of the energy portfolio. The state is willing to spend billions to make one fuel as clean as natural gas, but it won't use the natural gas we have in this state."
Beatty saved some of his criticism for the energy industry.
"As misguided as the [state's] positions are, we are as much at fault as the administration," he told the audience. "Our industry only gets on its hind legs and speaks when its survival is threatened. We avoid discussions with anyone who opposes us...This administration and the attitude of many Coloradans shows a woeful ignorance of the industry. But we need to address it with education, not anger...We don't need to say we need a new administration when we don't agree. Every Bill O'Reilly [of Fox News] leads to a Keith Olbermann [of MSNBC]."
Speaking of his former boss Romer, Beatty said, "Colorado is at its best when it plays politics on the 40-yard line...We need to engage in public discourse, because there is not a single individual or a single company that does not care about wildlife, about water," or in general about the environment. "Lots of people right now are hostile to this industry, but we must answer the invectives...All we ask for is a seat at the table, which will lead the way to a real energy economy."
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