GRAND JUNCTION – On Friday, June 1, the House Committee on Natural Resources convened a Field Hearing in Grand Junction, “Examining Natural Gas and Oil Shale Opportunities in Western Colorado.” Reps. Scott Tipton of CO’s 3rd District and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah hosted the hearing. The purpose of the hearing was “to examine opportunities for the export of natural gas from the Piceance Basin through the proposed Jordan Cove Energy and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline and to evaluate the potential for development of domestic oil shale resources in the area.”
“The hearing was a dog and pony show intended to advance House Republicans’ agenda to increase fossil fuel production on public lands,” said WW Staff Attorney Peter Hart. “Though the hearing was open to public attendance, it was not open to public comment. Witnesses were allowed to present by invitation only.”
The invited witnesses were a “who’s who” of fossil fuel hustlers, including: Gary Aho, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association, David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association, Rose Pugliese, Mesa County commissioner, and Matt Wurtzbacher, president and chief operating officer of Caerus Oil & Gas. These witnesses responded to scripted questions from Tipton and Bishop—using the elevated stage to promote more fossil fuel development and fewer protections for public lands.
To contrast against this charade, a “Peoples’ Press Conference” was held outside the hearing. Small business owners, Ute tribal members, and veterans from Western Colorado and Utah gathered to support another vision of our energy future and emphasized the importance of protecting our public lands.
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk of the Ute Mountain Tribe near Cortez attended the protest and criticized Tipton and Bishop’s failure to ask for any indigenous representation at the hearing. “We want to know why our protections are being ignored and … why the inheritance of our grandchildren and the next seven generations is not being taken seriously. We need to protect what we enjoy today so our young people … can enjoy the same things,” she said.
Paonia resident and organic farmer Lesandre Holiday spoke as well. “A strong and viable economy can exist without oil and gas. Why are we encouraging these boom-and-bust industries and why are our elected officials not opting for greater economic diversity and resilience?”
Garrett Reppenhagen, a veteran of the Iraq War, attended the protest and said, “If it wasn’t for the outdoors, I probably wouldn’t be here today because they helped me heal and recover from war. We can’t lose these resources. Rob Bishop is going to throw us under the bus, he’s going to throw our public lands under the bus and he’s going to throw our public health under the bus, for what? For a couple of dollars to people he knows.”
Recalling the hearing, Hart said, “It was telling when Gary Aho described oil shale as a low-value rock, and admitted that it is worth only about $35 per ton. Aho went on to request that Congress promote development of this low-value rock on public lands in Western Colorado by designating the area as a strategic oil shale reserve and ensuring oil shale development on those lands is prioritized over other uses. Mining treasured public lands for low-value, polluting fossil fuels just doesn’t make sense. The truth is the rock may be worth more unmined. After all, people flock to Western Colorado’s stunning public lands to hunt, fish, mountain bike, etc. But those folks don’t flock to mines. Nonetheless, the hearing made it very clear what Tipton, Bishop and their ilk want to hear, and what they don’t want to hear.”