Kelly Sloan, The Business Times
Representatives from Halliburton had no sooner thanked John Hickenlooper for touring a drill bit refurbishing operation in Grand Junction than the Colorado governor returned the courtesy.
“It is us who need to thank you,” Hickenlooper said, referring to the more than 100,00 jobs and $30 billion in economic contributions the energy sector brings to the state.
Energy development was among the topics the governor discussed during a subsequent meeting at the Halliburton facility with members of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
David Ludlum, executive director for the West Slope Oil and Gas Association, asked Hickenlooper about his views on expanding liquefied natural gas exports, especially considering the scope of gas reserves in Western Colorado.
Hickenlooper said he supported such efforts, adding higher natural gas prices would bring drillers back to the region.
The governor also said he was continuing to work on expanding the use of natural gas in state fleets, noting the Colorado State Patrol was close to switching to new patrol cars fueled with compressed natural gas.
Hickenlooper also addressed two issues affecting energy development on the West Slope: newly enacted air quality regulations and the potential listing of the greater sage grouse as a federally endangered species.
The air quality rules were the end result of cooperation involving the state, oil and gas industry and environmental groups, he said. “We got the biggest oil and gas operators to sit down with the environmental community and enter into negotiations.”
For its part, state regulators offered to make the new rules as painless as possible and to cut as much red tape as possible, he added.
Meanwhile efforts continue to avoid a listing for the grouse, including a recent trip at Hickenlooper’s invitation for Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to Northwest Colorado to see firsthand local efforts to protect grouse habitat. “A secretary of the interior has not gone to a rural area like that for years.”
Jewell left impressed, Hickenlooper added, “saying that ‘you people are doing more locally than anyone in Washington is aware.”
The discussion also included water and the governor’s proposed state water plan.
Mesa County Commissioner Steve Aquafresca asked Hickenlooper to reject calls by some on the Front Range for a trans-mountain diversion reserve, which Aquafresca called a back door into transferring more water from the West Slope to the Denver area.
The governor said he viewed his role as that of “convener,” adding the point of the plan is not so much the plan itself as the process. “You guys have to come together as a community and figure out a compromise.
While “everyone says it’s impossible,” Hickenlooper said he believed all parties could arrive at an acceptable solution if they sat down together. “We need to believe in people and work together.”
Betsy Bair, government affairs director for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the group was grateful for Hickenlooper’s leadership on the sage grouse issue as well as meeting with chamber members. “He is willing to listen to business and wants to know what is happening on the West Slope and to hear what our businesses want.”
Greg Motz, chairman of the chamber board of directors said he was pleased the governor has been supportive of energy development in general. “We appreciate him taking the time to come out and listen to our concerns.”