Rocky Mountain states facing energy challenges

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Exploring energy issues in the Rockies is the topic of a four-part lecture series that will mark the beginning of Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Conference.
The college, which sponsors the four-day meeting each April, is expanding the program this year to include lectures about energy exploration in the Rocky Mountain states. The first lecture in the “Energizing the Rockies: Energy Challenges in Global, National and Regional Perspectives” series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 13.
“We are exploring ways to get more people to come to the event, and sometimes, they’re overwhelmed by all the information provided at the four-day conference,” said Professor Walt Hecox, project director. “This is a big issue for Colorado and the rest of the Rocky states, so we want to explore what it means to the economies of the small communities.”
Hecox said that areas of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are experiencing an “energy boom” because of exploration for natural gas and other energy sources. This has put a strain on small communities.
“We have a ‘boom and bust’ cycle in the West’s economy,” he said. “And we’re in a ‘boom’ right now, as far as energy companies are concerned, and small towns — like Rifle, Gillette and Pinedale — are feeling the strain. They’re trying to provide housing, social services, schools to all these workers, and it’s hard to do. Many of these workers are transient. What happens when they move on to the next boom in these towns?”
Many of the oil companies have devised a solution that seems straight out of Colorado’s past: “man camps” — trailers set up high in the mountains, close to drilling and exploration sites. The sites are only slightly more permanent than the mining camps and towns hastily assembled during Colorado’s Gold Rush.
“They’re setting up transient housing,” he said. “That way, it’s less of a strain on these communities. But it strains other resources, too. Basically, we want this series to explore the energy issue. What do the Rockies owe the rest of the country as far as energy resources? And what does the rest of the country owe the Rockies?”
Rebecca Watson, former U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary during President George W. Bush’s first term, is the series’ first speaker. She is a partner at Hogan & Hartson and has more than 20 years of legal and policy experience in natural resources, federal environmental law, energy and recreation.
Watson will discuss the function of federal lands and resources as they relate to the current energy crisis.
While at the Department of the Interior, Watson was responsible for the Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The bureaus are responsible for 35 percent of the nation’s domestic oil, natural gas and coal production.
The BLM also manages public land for recreation, grazing, timber production, mining, wilderness, energy development and wildlife habitat. As overseer of the offices, Watson was responsible for 261 million acres of BLM land, 700 million acres of mining land and 1.7 billion acres of off-shore energy resources.
Watson has testified before Congress, and discussed energy and natural resource issues with the Western Governors’ Association, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, National Mining Association, Geothermal Energy Association, Boone and Crockett Club, National Oceans Industries Association, National Hispanic Sustainable Energy and Environmental Conference, National Association of Counties, Colorado Oil and Gas Association, North American Wildlife Conference and the World Renewables Conference.
“I’m going to address the topic with three points: the impact of energy, the role of public resources — particularly oil, gas and renewable,” she said. “And I’ll talk about what’s been happening in the Western area. It’s extremely important for renewables, things like wind energy and biomass. I’ll also discuss the need for balance in dealing with energy exploration on federal lands. It’s a real balancing act because there are multiple uses — gold mines, wilderness uses, grazing, recreation. You have to have all those things and impact them the least. I’ll talk a little about what’s going on with public lands and what we can expect from the new congress.”
Watson’s presentation will be the first of four lectures, Hecox said.
“Energy production and exploration are extremely important issues for the Rockies,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve used this device, to lead up to the conference in April. But we really felt it deserved more conversation.”
Other speakers will discuss the “energy boom” in the Rockies from the perspective of the major oil companies.
Raymond Plank, chairman and founder of the Apache Corp. is scheduled to deliver a lecture Jan. 24. Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, will talk about renewable energy possibilities Feb. 27. Matthew Simmons will discuss the end of “cheap oil: what should the U.S. and the Rockies do?” on March 5.
“Simmons is quite controversial,” Hecox said. “He’s known all over the world for his book, ‘Twilight in the Desert,’ which talks about his perspective that the Saudis are covering up a serious depletion in the oil reserves. If they are, what does this mean for the supply pressure on the Rockies and the whole nation? He’s been in the Wall Street Journal, the Economist.”
The series of lectures will be held in the Gates Common Room, on the third floor of Palmer Hall at Colorado College.
All the lectures are free and open to the public.