An Oregon project to build a liquefied natural gas export facility would be a boon to the Western Slope, a group of local economic development and elected officials told Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton on Wednesday.
The state's current treasurer said he understands that and intends to fully support the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project as other elected officials have, regardless of political affiliation, ranging from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican.
"This is a very exciting time for western Colorado," Stapleton said about the status of the project at a roundtable discussion at Colorado Mesa University.
"I think we need to ratchet up the communication from the state level with federal agencies to make sure that we can expedite this project as quickly as possible," he said. "I've had the opportunity to meet with different members of the project and potential investors, and the demand is absolutely there."
The $9.8 billion project, which still awaits final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is expected to generate a new boom in natural gas drilling throughout the West, particularly in the Piceance Basin, which has the second-largest deposit of natural gas in the nation.
The project was stalled under the Obama administration in 2016 when the commission denied a permit to build the facility on grounds it couldn't show a market existed to sell the gas.
Since then, however, the company that is building the facility, Pembina, has signed contracts with two Japanese companies to purchase about half of the natural gas it expects to export, with an expectation of having additional signed contracts by the time the facility is built.
Last spring, a senior adviser of the project told a state Senate committee that the company expects to secure its permits to build and plans to start construction early next year. That work is expected to take about three years.
Diane Schwenke, executive director of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, told Stapleton that because agreements to purchase the gas will be in multi-year contracts, that will help stabilize the natural gas market.
"One of the reasons that we are so excited about this project is that these are 20-year contracts," she told Stapleton. "We are in a region where we see this boom-and-bust cycle on our natural resources for as long as we've had communities here. To have 20-year contracts, a guaranteed market at a guaranteed price, we're assured some stability in terms of our economic development landscape."
Stapleton took the opportunity to poke holes in his Democratic opponent's energy plan, which has focused almost entirely on renewable energy.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis has been touting a plan to make the state energy independent by 2040 by mandating utility companies to produce 100 percent of the power they generate from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
Polis, however, has not taken a stance on the Jordan Cove project, and couldn't be reached for comment to say whether he supports it.
In the past, however, Polis has said he doesn't favor further restrictions on drilling activities in the state, such as bans on hydraulic fracturing, but quickly adds that it must be done without harm to the environment or the health, safety and welfare of nearby residents.
"His silence is deafening," Stapleton said. "He's already been asked this multiple times, and he's been a congressman for a decade and has refused to be a champion of this project. His lack of enthusiasm and response gives clear indication of where he stands, and that is not as an advocate for a project that would be transformative for the economy of western Colorado."