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Western Governors Gassed on 10-Year Energy Vision

Increased interstate cooperative projects on everything from more oil production to modernizing natural gas pipeline infrastructure are part of a 10-year energy plan unveiled by the Western Governors' Association (WGA) last month at the annual meeting in Park City, UT.

The plan also dips into the areas of greenhouse gas reductions, efficiency advances and water-conserving technology development. WGA Chairman and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the plan was the result of "bipartisan cooperation," and he predicted it would be the first step toward "a blueprint for the entire country." Herbert touted the plan as promoting both economic growth and environmental protection, and he said his hope was that Congress and the Obama administration will "follow this example."

Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Bob Perciasepe and Department of Energy (DOE) Deputy Secretary Dan Poneman both spoke with the group, prompting a discussion of President Obama's climate change address late last month (see NGI, July 1). Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead had criticized the president's remarks, which were tough on coal. Poneman noted that coal was important to the nation and said DOE had about $6 billion in funding to clean coal programs involving advances in carbon capture and storage technology.

WGA's energy vision is supported by two other recently published documents -- a compilation of individual perspectives by most of the 19 western governors, three heads of Canadian provinces (Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and three governors of American territories (Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa), along with a detailed summary of energy resources in the West.

The broader WGA plan articulated six goals, ranging from energy security to making the West a global leader in energy education and development.

One of the six goals is to increase energy productivity involving natural gas and electricity, and a second one identifies the need to "ensure energy is clean, affordable and reliable by providing a balanced portfolio of renewable, nontraditional and traditional resources."

American Gas Association (AGA) CEO Dave McCurdy called the plan a "smart" way to improve "the way we consume energy," and will help boost economic and environmental improvements around the nation. "We join them [the western governors] in their call for efficient use of natural gas through continued upgrades to our natural gas infrastructure." McCurdy committed the gas utilities to partnering in the all of the above approach to energy development.

"WGA governors believe that resources should compete freely in the marketplace, but based on the policies and needs of its member states," the introduction to the six goals said. The vision also emphasizes the development of "an effective and genuine" federal-state partnership in energy development. The vision makes a case for the western states as an important cog in U.S. energy security. "The governors believe this regional vision can serve as a blueprint to guide a national energy policy that promotes economic growth while protecting our valued natural and environmental resources."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a presentation that natural gas was a critical part of his state's "all-of-the-above" energy strategy, and he is encouraging increased horizontal drilling development. He contended that unlocking oil and gas resources through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is good for the state and national economy and the environment when done safely.

"Colorado's goal is to promote our energy resources for the benefit of the state and its citizens, while staying accountable for the highest ethical and environmental standards," Hickenlooper wrote one of more than a dozen energy perspectives.

Hickenlooper cited the job-creating benefits for Colorado, which attributes 43,000 direct jobs and another 63,000 indirect ones to oil and gas operations, and he noted the $1.2 billion in royalties recently paid to mineral rights owners in a single year. He acknowledged that not everyone agrees that more development can be accomplished safely. While fracking has raised concerns related to impacts on Colorado's water resources, in 2010 the 13,900 acre-feet of water used for fracking represented less than one-tenth of 1% (0.l0%) of the total water used in the state, he said. By 2015, the amount could rise sightly above 0.10%, but it will still be relatively minimal.

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