Gas drillers could benefit from new energy plan |

Gas drillers could benefit from new energy plan

Natural gas production in the Rockies, which has increased in recent years, stands to grow even more under provisions expected to be included in President Bush’s energy policy.

Bush’s energy plan, to be unveiled Thursday, was expected to call for more oil and gas wells, more pipelines and less regulation in Colorado.

That would bolster the $4 billion oil and gas industry that employs 15,000 people in Colorado, as well as the 12 coal mines that employ 2,000.

“I think you will see a boom time in Colorado,” said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.

Environmentalists worry that Bush’s emphasis on drilling spells disaster for the Rockies as oil rigs and mines spoil some of the wilderness. Potential places for drilling include northwestern Colorado’s Vermillion Basin, Wyoming’s Jack Morrow Hills and the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana.

“We’ve termed this the `Bush-Cheney drill everywhere policy,'” said Travis Stills of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project in Durango. “At what point is it no longer palatable to sacrifice people and the land to oil and gas?”

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Congressional Democrats say the plan is driven by Bush’s supporters in the energy and natural resource industry. Democrats have released their own plan to lower electricity prices and increase conservation.

The plan, drafted by a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is also expected to call for new power plants, a return to nuclear energy and opening Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

The plan enjoys support among Western Republicans in Congress, except for a proposal to give the federal government the power to condemn land for electric transmission lines.

“That’s the one part of the plan I don’t like,” Campbell said. “I’m a rancher. I don’t like people coming on my property telling me, `We’re going to put a line across your yard.’

“Many times when you have land condemned for transmission lines or power lines, you can’t get a loan on that land from banks,” said Campbell, who supports the rest of Bush’s energy strategy.

Responding to mounting criticism that his plan shortchanges conservation, Bush will stress his support for renewable and alternative energy sources.

In Colorado, the plan could include seasonal restrictions on drilling to protect wildlife and streamlining the process for approving new wells on public land.

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