Sen. Salazar says BLM may see significant changes under Obama |

Sen. Salazar says BLM may see significant changes under Obama

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Coloradans may expect to see significant changes in how the Bureau of Land Management oversees drilling on federal lands in a future Barack Obama presidential administration, Sen. Ken Salazar said Wednesday.

The senator, in comments to reporters Wednesday, also seemed to dismiss speculation that he might accept a position as head of the U.S. Department of the Interior, calling the possibility “highly doubtful.”

“Representing my state of Colorado as a United States senator is a blessing and a privilege, and I believe my work has just begun,” said Salazar, adding that he would make sure the Obama transition team considers a Westerner to be the head of the Interior Department.

Less than a day after Americans handed President-elect Obama a landslide 349-162 electoral vote victory, Salazar said the incoming Obama administration would seek a balanced approach for a “comprehensive energy program.” That program would seek to protect the resources that are needed for the “long-term sustainability” of communities impacted by energy development.

“I think what you are going to see is a greater sensitivity from an Obama administration with respect to the protection of land and water, and I think a deference to what it is that state governors, state officials and local elected leaders want in respect to their lands,” Salazar said. “I have often said that Bush-Cheney ethic of development of our natural resources is ‘go everywhere and anywhere’ without any significant limitations. I don’t think that will be the case with an Obama administration.”

The Obama administration’s attitudes toward oil and gas development may have significant consequence for northwest Colorado. It is estimated that there is 165 trillion cubic feet of natural gas locked up below the ground in federal and private minerals in the area, according to a rough estimate from the Bureau of Land Management.

There is also the potential for commercial oil shale development on about 360,000 federally-controlled acres in northwest Colorado. A 2005 RAND study estimates that there is about 1 trillion barrels of oil in the Piceance Basin, which stretches across Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said a future Obama administration, along with the election of Colorado Democrat Mark Udall to the U.S. Senate, leads him to think that “environmental interests” will have a much larger say and influence over oil and gas development on the Western Slope.

“Our concern is that could translate into less economic development for the West Slope, as a result of policies that would slow down economic growth by restricting access to natural gas development,” he said. “Independent oil and gas producers in the intermountain West share the same concern as all Westerners about getting our economy on a strong footing, and we think a part of that includes developing our domestic natural gas supplies so we have affordable energy.”

Salazar and Udall have drawn strong criticism from Republicans, and from some in the oil and gas industry for many positions they have taken over natural gas production on the Roan Plateau and the development of oil shale this year.

Salazar said he didn’t think the “agenda” the country currently has toward oil shale development will “change that much” when Barack Obama assumes the presidency.

The Bureau of Land Management is expected to issue a decision any time now that would open about 2 million acres in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to oil shale development. The agency is also expected to issue regulations to guide any possible commercial scale production of the resource later this year.

However, Salazar hinted there may be “an opportunity to address those regulations” in the future.

The Colorado senator also said he and other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Senator-elect Mark Udall and Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, are open to drilling on the Roan Plateau. But he added they would like to move forward with drilling in the manner “that was recommended by (Colo. Gov. Bill) Ritter and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.”

“They set forth a plan that balanced the development of the natural gas resource under the Roan at the same time protected the values for hunters and anglers and wildlife on the Roan,” Salazar said.

Asked whether his statements might mean possible Roan legislation in the next congressional session, he said that was an action that was too early to contemplate just a day after the general election and an Obama win. Before the election, John Salazar also suggested the possibility of a continued fight in Congress about the future of the Roan Plateau.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

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