State seen as leader in energy independence

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When it comes to energy independence, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall admits there’s no silver bullet.

But there is “silver buckshot,” he said.

Udall, who was in Centennial on May 10 at the South Metro Chamber, said one of Colorado’s most promising areas of growth will be energy, and not just in fossil fuels.

However, according to the second-generation Democratic statesman, in order to seize the opportunities that come with energy, the government must first eliminate economic barriers that hinder new product and job development.

For Udall, those barriers are immigration reform and a balanced budget.

Although statistics show unemployment is down and housing starts are up, Udall said it’s not enough, and Colorado’s diverse energy landscape may be the key to keeping the economy growing.

“Colorado is truly a balanced model for a national energy policy,” Udall said. “Just think about it — we’ve got solar in the San Luis Valley, we’ve got wind towers on the Eastern Slope of the state, we’ve got natural gas and coal and oil on the Western Slope. We’ve got it all and we’re showing the showing the nation — and literally the world — how to achieve energy independence.”

An advocate for renewable energy, Udall went on to explain that innovation will play a role in maintaining balance between energy production and the environment.

“One success story is a methane capture project in Somerset, Colo.,” said Udall. “And what this project does is take a waste product — which is methane — and turns it into electricity.”

The project is a collaboration between Aspen Skiing Co. and Oxbow Mining LLC to explore the untapped potential of coal bed methane.

Udall pointed out that methane gas is either burned off or vented away from the mine.

“This waste product now powers all of Aspen’s four ski areas, 13 restaurants and three hotels,” he said. “And this is all because members of the private sector decided to come together and find an innovative job-creating solution.”

But while Udall cites the Oxbow model as an example of success, he also points out that the transition to renewable resources must come gradually.

“We will eventually get there,” he said. “When you think about it, fossil fuels are finite.”

But in the meantime, Udall said the state should continue responsible development of more traditional energy resources.

“We in Colorado have a tremendous opportunity to lead the world in oil and natural gas production,” he said. “Why? Because there have been innovations in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing and they will help fuel our economic recovery and make our nation more energy-independent.”

But Udall admits development is moving closer and closer to residential areas.

“I believe that oil and gas development is an industrial process, and it can be done safely when it’s done right,” he said. “But the public is raising some serious and legitimate concerns about the process, specifically hydraulic fracturing.”

As many Colorado communities begin to define oil and gas exploration regulations, Udall acknowledge the heated debates are just the beginning of a longer conversation.

“I know you all will agree that one well contaminated is one well too many,” he said. “I want the industry to do everything possible to be transparent with the public, especially with their efforts with hydraulic fracturing.”

But that comes with a caveat.

“The state has to be informed by science,” said Udall, listing a number of ongoing research projects on the topic. “No rhetoric, no speculation.”

Overall, Udall thinks the state’s on the right track, but shouldn’t rest on its laurels.

“We can’t wait until the next energy crisis, natural disaster or national tragedy forces Congress and all of us to act,” he said. “Investments in innovation by industry are essential to helping the United States transition to a more reliable, affordable and secure energy future.”

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