DENVER (AP) — President Barack Obama had good reason to choose Colorado for a backdrop Thursday talking about energy policies.
Where else have energy companies and environmentalists come together over a controversial drilling procedure? Colorado also has a booming solar-energy industry in the very county where Obama plans to stop Thursday on a five-state swing to promote policies outlined in his State of the Union address.
But Colorado is a state divided in some ways on energy production.
Last year, Colorado politicians trumpeted a compromise on the so-called fracking procedure energy companies use to extract gas from rock formations deep underground. The regulation required energy companies to disclose the concentrations of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, which some environmentalists and residents fear is contaminating groundwater and tainting the air.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has lauded the compromise as a common-sense way to build energy jobs while protecting the environment.
“When the Environmental Defense Fund and Halliburton stood together in Colorado in support of the state’s new fracking disclosure rule, other states took notice,” Hickenlooper said in his State of the State address. “It’s another reason why we believe so passionately in the power of partnership and collaboration.”
Obama sounded a bit like Hickenlooper on Tuesday in his third State of the Union speech.
The president touted domestic energy resources and added, “I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
That part of the speech could have been written by a Colorado politician. But there are conflicting opinions about the state of the energy industry in Colorado, which ranks fifth nationally in natural gas production and 10th in oil production, according to federal statistics.
The county where Obama stops Thursday, Arapahoe, was recently chastised by the state’s Republican attorney general for proposing drilling regulations that went too far in limiting drilling, in the opinion of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. Attorney General John Suthers sent a similar letter to El Paso County.
In response to the local-state dispute, some of Hickenlooper’s fellow Democrats are proposing bills to rein in gas and oil drilling. Some of them say the lauded fracking compromise doesn’t mean concerns about drilling have been resolved.
“When I’ve talked to constituents, almost everyone has mentioned concerns to me about fracking,” said Democratic Rep. Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs, who has sponsored a bill to regulate the disposal of fracking fluids. “If we know what’s in it or not, that doesn’t help if there’s an accident.”
Another Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Su Ryden, wants a new 1,000-foot statewide buffer between drill sites and schools. Ryden comes from Aurora, where Obama planned his stop.
“My constituents are not against oil and gas in our community. We know the need to produce energy in this country,” Ryden said. “We need to do it, but we need to do it responsibly.”
On the other side, some energy advocates say the president’s pro-energy talk in his speech doesn’t match reality.
Kathleen Sgamma of the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance said the administration needs to do more to encourage oil and gas production.
“The regulations and the policies that this administration has put into place have made the development of gas and oil more difficult in America,” Sgamma said.
A Republican congressman who represents the Western half of the state, where much of Colorado’s drilling is concentrated, also said Obama’s talk about energy development rings hollow. Rep. Scott Tipton says the administration has slowed energy production through delayed drilling permits.
“We want to see the rhetoric backed up with policy,” Tipton said.
The White House hasn’t said whether Obama will talk specifically about drilling. He’s also scheduled to talk about energy earlier Thursday in Nevada.
Ryden said Obama may be coming to tout solar development. Aurora announced last October that General Electric would build a solar panel facility there.
“Anything we can do to promote that would be welcome,” Ryden said.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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