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PBS appearance highlights regulatory issues facing increased domestic energy production
David O. Williams, left, and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission executive director Dave Neslin on the PBS show "Colorado State of Mind."
Courtesy of Rocky Mountain PBS

PBS appearance highlights regulatory issues facing increased domestic energy production

By David O. Williams

May 9, 2010 —  Thursday I drove down to Denver in yet another spring snowstorm to tape the Denver PBS roundtable-style show “Colorado State of Mind.” The topic was “The Future of Oil and Gas in Colorado.”

Covering energy and environmental issues for the Colorado Independent is my day job. Covering skiing and the Vail Valley for so far has mostly been a labor of love.

When I came back Thursday afternoon it was still pounding snow at the Eisenhower Tunnel, and I woke up Friday morning to another three inches of fresh snow in West Vail, nearly three full weeks after Vail Mountain shut down for the season.

It’s hard to think about global climate change when you’re in the midst of the kind of Rocky Mountain spring the Vail Valley has been enduring. But back in the early 90s I remember it snowing on the Fourth of July, so maybe things are getting warmer. Just not here; just not now.

Regardless, it was an interesting afternoon in Denver, where the topic was the state rules regulating natural gas drilling in Colorado’s high county. Natural gas burns 50-percent cleaner than coal and is being touted as the ideal bridge fuel to the “New Energy Economy.”

However, in northwest Colorado drilling for gas is an industrial activity in an area a lot of people value for hunting, fishing, recreating and just plain living. There have been impacts to water and air quality, wildlife habitat and the quality of life of quite a few human residents of the Western Slope.

It was my second appearance on the show hosted by veteran Colorado broadcast journalist Cynthia Hessin, and I was joined by panelists David Neslin, executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC); Jim Spehar, former Grand Junction mayor and current columnist for the Grand Junction Free Press and High Country News; and Michael Brown, former FEMA director and current KOA-AM (Denver) radio host.

Yes, that Michael Brown.

Topics of discussion ranged from the COGCC’s one-year-old set of environmentally tougher oil-and-gas drilling regulations – including the political ramifications - to the ongoing cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Brown made headlines Monday when he accused President Barrack Obama of playing politics with the spill by responding slowly in order to turn public opinion against offshore drilling. There has been a major push by environmentalists and some Democratic lawmakers to ban offshore drilling in the wake of the spill.

Or at least make Obama backtrack on last month’s proposal to open up more than 200 million acres of coastal waters off the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling. Tea Partiers are trying to gain traction by calling the Gulf spill “Obama’s Katrina.”

Besides the fact the administration appears to have responded quickly and appropriately, the comparison is bogus for a lot of other reasons – not the least of which is the obvious fact that humans dying in the wake of a natural disaster don’t equate to seabirds and turtles dying in the wake of a man-made calamity.

Government dithering and failing to regulate extractive industries (or rescue hurricane victims), however, is a valid criticism. And time will tell how well the feds mitigate this disaster and move to make sure the next spill isn’t nearly as severe.



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