Obama speech elicits opinions in Grand Valley

Supporters of natural gas development as well as those who want tighter environmental controls on it offered mixed assessments Wednesday after President Barack Obama said the fuel can play an important role in the nation’s future energy supply if safely extracted.

Obama on Wednesday outlined a goal to cut U.S. oil imports by one-third, through measures such as more use of renewable sources, increased efficiency, additional domestic oil and gas production, and safer nuclear power production informed by the lessons of the disaster in Japan.

Obama said the nation has the opportunity to tap into large natural gas reserves, but it must protect water supplies in the process. He said he asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu “to work with other agencies, the natural gas industry, states and environmental experts to improve the safety of this process.”

Obama asked for passage of a bill to that end. A bill being sought by some in Congress would require public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing during gas development, and it would regulate the process under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A sponsor of that bill, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., said in a statement he was pleased by Obama’s recognition of the need to protect water supplies. But, he said, the Obama administration shouldn’t offer incentives for gas development before the Environmental Protection Agency finishes a study on fracturing and it can be assured that proper protective regulations are in place.

Leslie Robinson, chairwoman of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she thinks the marketplace, and not the president, will dictate future energy choices.

She added, “I think if the industry would follow through on good drilling practices, there wouldn’t be a confrontation between environmentalists and the industry.”

Obama’s speech helped contribute to a 2 percent rise in natural gas prices Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Kathleen Sgamma, of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, applauded Obama’s mention of the potential for natural-gas-powered vehicles to reduce oil imports, but she said his talk of encouraging domestic oil production runs counter to administrative initiatives that serve as disincentives to develop on federal lands.

Said U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, “If the president is serious about his new commitment to American energy independence, he needs to work with Congress to open up American energy development with a yes-to-all approach that will stabilize our energy supply, increase revenue and create jobs.”

But U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, said the Obama administration “has granted ample access to oil and gas development in the U.S., approving a higher percentage of permits in 2010 than during all but one year of the Bush administration.”

Obama made no mention of oil shale in his speech.

“When such an important resource in our area is not discussed as part of our energy strategy, it’s always disappointing,” said Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association.


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