Hickenlooper: Natural gas prices key to economic recovery
Gov. John Hickenlooper told a gathering of local business owners and politicians Friday that natural gas prices are the chief reason Grand Junction’s economy currently lags the state’s and predicted the energy sector will boom when those prices rise again.
The state is regularly exploring new ways to encourage demand for natural gas, like working to lift a federal ban on liquid natural gas exports, Hickenlooper said.
“That wouldn’t be a bad thing,” he said.
Increasing exports is one prong of the effort. Working to convert the state’s fleet of vehicles to run on natural gas is another, he said.
More and more state vehicles are coming on line and burning natural gas. The governor said he is urging Colorado State Patrol officials to consider using a version of the new Chevrolet Impala, which burns natural gas.
As vice chairman of the National Governors Association, Hickenlooper said he has been working with the governors of Oklahoma and 22 other states to convert all of their fleets, including those of school districts to municipal governments.
“We still have to promote getting a network of natural gas filling stations established,” he said.
The governor told the gathering he was doing everything within his power to promote the industry, boasting he enjoyed some influence in Washington, D.C.
He said he is using his influence to educate top federal bureaucrats about the industry, particularly the U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
He is also urging Moniz to consider natural gas conversion for the nation’s fleet of federal vehicles.
“I think it’s a sweet spot in our economy,” Hickenlooper said. “There’s a lot of different self-interests on the line.”
When multiple self-interests align, “That’s when a transaction happens,” he said.
“When you look at why Grand Junction and Colorado Springs — the only two areas in Colorado where we haven’t gotten through the pre-recession job levels — that is largely the price of natural gas. The price went down so far, the larger operators stopped drilling so often.”
Currently, oil and gas employs 112,000 people in the state and pays them an average wage of $100,000 a year. The industry has a $30 billion impact on the Colorado economy, Hickenlooper said.
“When you have so many ancillary industries, like construction, linked to all that activity, if we raise the price of natural gas, all of sudden, this part of the world’s going to get very busy again,” Hickenlooper said.
As these state strategies play out, natural gas prices will go up and Grand Junction’s economy will be revived, Hickenlooper said.
Members of the Grand Junction City Council and Mesa County Commission as well as local industry leaders met with Hickenlooper at the standing-room-only event hastily organized by Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs director Betsy Bair.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, a candidate for the state Legislature, pressured Hickenlooper on water issues, urging him to bear in mind Western Slope agriculture’s need for the resource is critical.
Acquafresca said he was nervous about plans to divert more water to the Front Range.
“I sell Colorado as a purple state with the same number of Republicans as Democrats,” Hickenlooper said. “But we do things in a bipartisan way and solve problems. That is so important to people” who are looking at the state as a possible place to relocate.
The trip to Grand Junction was part of his effort to bring diverse interests together to solve problems.
He pointed to his administration’s success in getting regulators together with oil and gas industry stakeholders and environmentalists to produce new clean air and water rules that all sides could live with.
“It took 14 months, but when it was done, both sides claimed victory,” he said.
Hickenlooper said his peacemaking with the oil and gas industry made him confident that opposing views about western Colorado water resources can also be compromised for the good of the state.
He said he was confident a similar result can be achieved if diverse water interests meet to resolve their differences.
Acquafresca said after the meeting the governor’s statements were inconsistent.
A Halliburton spokesman thanked Hickenlooper for meeting at the company’s Patterson Road drill bit facility where the business roundtable took place.
“We should be thanking you for the jobs you provide our state,” Hickenlooper said.