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March 6, 2012
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Conservation groups call Obama to task over his remarks on oil and gas

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Two environmental groups active in Garfield County's oil and gas issues have joined more than 100 other groups in criticizing recent remarks by President Barack Obama about the industry.The organizations sent a letter to the president Monday to express concerns about Obama's remarks in the State of the Union address on Jan. 25.In that speech, the letter complained, President Obama seemed to uncritically accept claims by the oil and gas industry about the safety of controversial technologies, the industry's job-creating capabilities and other matters.The letter was penned by Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, and signed by representatives of 109 organizations.The Colorado signers include Western Colorado Congress (WCC), a long-established coalition of regional groups that has been working with Garfield County organizations on oil and gas issues."WCC is very concerned about President Obama's increasing public support, and confidence in, natural gas," said Frank Smith, director of organizing for WCC."Although natural gas could be an important bridge fuel, its development can ruin water and more," Smith said. "Fracking and other processes pose risks that warrant common sense safeguards."The other area group to sign the letter is The Endochrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) of Paonia, a scientific research center that has questioned the industry's claim that oil and gas extraction is not hazardous to the health of nearby residents.The letter states, in part: "Although we were encouraged by your stated commitment to safe development of natural gas reserves and by your insistence on disclosure of chemicals used in drilling on federal lands, we were troubled by your claim that government investment in shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing has been a clear-cut success story."An industry spokesman, however, called the letter "hyperbole and hairsplitting.""Many conservation groups continue to engage in positive, proactive dialogues with Colorado's natural gas industry," David Ludlam, director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, wrote in an email to the Post Independent. "As was the case in Colorado's groundbreaking hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule, remarkable outcomes are often the result of working together."Concerning the letter, Ludlam wrote, "There are always some who miss the boat and relegate themselves to the trenches of hyperbole and hairsplitting. Unfortunately, the letter to the president is wrought with both."The conservation groups' letter calls into question a number of claims made by the industry, and seemingly endorsed by Obama, about such issues as the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," on domestic water wells near the drilling zone."In response to the public's justifiable concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting two studies to determine whether hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater," the letter notes.The message questions Obama's apparent acceptance of the industry's prediction that U.S. natural gas reserves are enough for nearly 100 years of reliance on domestic energy producers instead of foreign ones.The letter cites a Department of Energy study that called that belief into doubt, noting that the DOE recently cut its estimates about the size of the nation's reserves of recoverable natural gas.In his speech, Obama declared that the gas industry "will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade," another claim the environmental groups questioned.Their letter quoted University of Montana professor Thomas Power, called "an authority on energy industry employment," who argues that the industry employs skilled and highly mobile workers who move from region to region, making the actual numbers of new jobs hard to calculate.Power contends that while drilling does involve an increase in local employees, the jobs associated with drilling largely disappear once the wells are completed.jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 6, 2012 01:26AM Published Mar 6, 2012 01:25AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.