U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said on Friday that he’s hopeful that negotiations currently under way will lead to legislation aimed at satisfying demands for more local control over oil and gas drilling in Colorado.
“I think we’re very close to a proposal that would answer most, if not all of the concerns that have been raised,” Udall said. “People want to find a solution.”
If the parties at the table reach an agreement, Gov. John Hickenlooper could call a special session of the General Assembly this summer to produce legislation that would head off numerous measures headed for the fall ballot.
Udall made his remarks to reporters following a forum on energy with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. The forum caps the Democratic senator’s year-and-a-half “energy tour” of the state, which included visits to energy-efficiency businesses in Denver, a geothermal project in Pagosa Springs, a methane-capture facility in Somerset and a natural gas processing operation in Weld County.
“I’m confident we’re going to find the right balance,” Udall said, though he noted that he’s not directly involved in the negotiations between local communities, the oil and gas industry and state officials. “We can protect public health, we can protect our land, our air and our water, and we can protect our energy security.”
Saying he’s been “privy to some of the conversations,” Udall, who served in the Legislature before being elected to federal office, added that he believes a negotiated settlement would be the best solution.
“Ballot issues, by their nature, tend to be clumsier than the legislative process. That’s why I’ve been engaged in urging everybody to continue to sit down, see if we can’t find a way forward,” he told reporters. Because initiatives must adhere to the state’s “single-subject” rule, he said, it’s more difficult to satisfy all sides with appropriate “nuance,” which is what he predicted will result from the talks. “There’s a lot of common principles that we in Colorado embrace.”
Udall’s Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, earlier that day demanded that the Democrat state whether he opposes a statewide ban on hydraulic “fracking.”
“Senator Udall has repeatedly chosen to listen to out-of-state billionaire backers like Tom Steyer over the people of Colorado,” said Gardner campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano. “This forum is an opportunity for him to hear from an industry expert on the economic benefits of increased production and finally bring his position in line with mainstream Coloradans.”
It’s a false choice, since no one is proposing an outright ban on fracking in Colorado, a spokesman for Udall said.
“We can protect public health, we can protect our land, our air and our water, and we can protect our energy security,” Udall said.
The Udall campaign fired back at Gardner in a statement.
“Colorado is a model for how we can build a balanced energy economy through the responsible development of clean burning natural gas, and renewable energy like wind and solar power,” campaign spokesman Chris Harris said. “Mark believes we can responsibly develop Colorado’s oil and natural gas resources while protecting our air quality, clean water and the health of all Colorado families.”
In addition, Harris said, “Congressman Gardner has questioned whether the Department of Energy should even exist and voted for a radical rightwing budget to slash clean energy programs, which would eliminate thousands of Colorado jobs.”
The Gardner campaign said that the Republican was a “committed proponent of a true all-of-the-above approach to energy policy including traditional and renewable fuels,” citing his authorship of a 2007 law establishing Colorado’s Clean Energy Authority when he served in the Legislature and his support for the wind production tax credit, if it’s paid for.
Moniz, an MIT physics and engineering professor, said to expect flexibility when the federal government unveils long-awaited rules on carbon emissions by power plants this week. It will be up to the states to figure out how to keep emissions below specified levels, he said.
“It shouldn’t surprise anybody that we have an all-of-the-above philosophy and that implies, with flexibility, multiple ways to getting to the targets,” Moniz said. “Clearly, we are committed to lower CO2 emissions, that’s the objective, and states will have flexibility. The administrator has mentioned that can be on the demand side, that can be on the supply side.”
A recent Department of Energy report calling for the doubling of hydroelectric power generation wouldn’t necessarily mean building more dams, Moniz also said, in response to a reporter’s question.
While possibilities include harnessing the power of rivers — generating “hydrokinetic” power — much of the increased capacity could be reached simply by adding electrical power generation capability to smaller, existing dams, he said.
Udall noted that there are thousands of smaller dams around the country that could add turbines and pointed to a facility in Ridgeway where a recreational and agricultural reservoir was outfitted with turbines that turned out to pay for themselves quickly.
“That was the theme of this gathering today, is that diverse energy technologies are everywhere,” Udall said. “We’re going to see more distributed energy technologies — smaller scale, create more of a network of energy systems, as well as the more centralized power plants and power technologies we’ve come to favor. But that diversity, in the end, is a strength. An economy that’s diverse is strong, an ecosystem that’s diverse is strong, and an energy system is no different. That’s at the heart of what you heard today. And Colorado — I’ve got to put a pitch in for us again — we are really leading the way. It’s truly an exciting set of opportunities and initiatives, all led by the people of Colorado, who are innovators and entrepreneurs and pretty darn creative.”
See the May 30 print edition for full photo coverage.