Ritter singin’ different tune on natural gas, new official says

Gov. Bill Ritter has a new point of view about natural gas, his new head of economic development told officials Monday in Grand Junction.

Natural gas is “where the Western Slope is going to sing” in Ritter’s effort to build a new energy economy, said Don Marostica, director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. He spoke to an audience at the Business Incubator Center.

Ritter is “very interested” in using natural gas as a clean source of power for electricity generation and no longer views it merely as a “bridge fuel” to an economy fueled only by solar, wind and renewable fuels, Marostica said.

Those fuels will amount to only 10 percent to 12 percent of the state’s energy needs, meaning that fuels such as natural gas will remain in demand, Marostica said.

“I’m going to hold him to it,” state Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collban, said later, noting that Marostica spoke before an audience that included bankers, business people and representatives of the gas industry. “He’d better be prepared to back it up.”

Ritter has quarrelled with the natural gas industry over new drilling rules adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which he reconstituted soon after he was elected in 2006.

More than 2,000 people packed a hearing in Grand Junction, most of them to protest the new rules.

The two Western Slope Republicans — Scott McInnis and Josh Penry — who are vying to take on Ritter next year said Ritter’s new respect for drilling comes too late.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said he was unconvinced that Ritter is more welcoming of gas drilling.

“When Bill Ritter admits that his oil and gas regulations were a catastrophic mistake and fixes them, when he fires the anti-drilling activists that he appointed to the oil and gas commission, when he apologizes to the thousands of men and women who have lost their job and homes as a result of his administration’s extreme policies, then and only then will I believe Bill Ritter has changed his tune on natural gas,” Penry wrote in an e-mail. “Until that time, it’s all just election happy talk, and talk is cheap.”

McInnis, a former U.S. representative from the 3rd Congressional District, said Marostica was off-key.

“They should have done their singing before we lost the jobs, not after we lost the jobs,” McInnis said. “We told you so, governor.”

Marostica, a Loveland Republican who gave up a seat in the Legislature to take over the economic development post in Ritter’s administration, was introduced by Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, a Grand Junction native.

He also was invited by Kathy Hall of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association to return to western Colorado to tour areas being drilled for natural gas. Hall reminded him that drilling results in “an enormous amount of severance tax” that buttresses the state budget.

He’s no newcomer to natural gas, Marsostica said, noting he sponsored legislation requiring the state to buy vehicles fueled with compressed natural gas.

Marostica, who holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from Colorado State University, stressed as well that he understands the difficulties of business. He met 131 times with the California Coastal Commission to get a project through there, he said, urging business people not to abandon projects because of regulation.

He also stressed the need for economic diversification to help the state weather economic troubles.


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