Did Bush Just Lose Colorado For McCain?

Bill Scher

Much of the political discussion surrounding the call from President George Bush and Senator John McCain for more coastal drilling centers on Florida, a crucial swing state that has long protected its coastline to keep its tourism industry thriving. With Obama inching ahead in Florida, McCain’s new stance carries major political risk.

But Bush’s address yesterday may cause a different, inland state to swing: Colorado.

Why? Because Bush called for the exploration of oil shale, specifically citing “the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.”

This is highly controversial in Colorado. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, covering the western area of Colorado that would be affected, editorialized last month against the “shale sham:”

There is no need to accelerate leasing of federal land for commercial oil shale production. The notion that the one-year moratorium on commercial leasing approved by Congress last year is somehow a barrier to commercial development is nonsense. If anything, that moratorium should be extended.

The real barriers to commercial oil shale production are technological, environmental and financial.

The Denver Post editorial board joined in on the criticism this month:

In recent days, some politicians have loudly demanded immediate leasing of massive oil shale reserves in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah as a way to swiftly lower gasoline prices.

The idea is ludicrous, and goes directly against the advice of the very energy companies that are actively researching how to tap the enormous but economically elusive oil shale reserves.

Both papers endorsed Bush for president in 2004, by the way.

The New Republic’s Josh Patashnik offers more detail on why the oil shale scheme will go bust:

Unfortunately, the idea … has a number of other problems. For one thing, nobody really knows to how to do it well: Bob Loucks, a former oil shale production manager, told Environmental Science and Technology that “Despite all the attempts to develop a shale-oil industry in the U.S. over the past 100 years, the fact remains that no proven method exists for efficiently removing the oil from the rock.” And whereas oil companies say they can drill for conventional oil in environmentally sensitive areas without disturbing the environment, no one even bothers making that claim when it comes to oil shale development, which by its very nature requires disturbing huge tracts of land. It also produces a fair amount of groundwater pollution–which, if it winds up in the Green River, could contaminate the rest of the Colorado basin. Suffice it to say that there are lots of people in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego who would not be pleased.

And then there are greenhouse gases: If you’re a fan of regular fossil-fuel carbon emissions, you’ll love oil shale.

Bush’s speech kicked up the Colorado debate another notch, area media.

My colleague David Sirota recently published a New York Times Magazine piece on how energy debates in the interior West may be, in a major political shift, hurting Republicans. And it’s well known that the Obama campaign plans a maximum effort to turn Colorado blue for the first time since 1992 (when Bill Clinton won with just 40% of the vote.)

McCain apparently has not yet taken a position on oil shale exploration. But it’s worth watching how Colorado reacts to Bush’s stance, and how McCain reacts to Colorado.

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