Colorado drilling oil gas

A drill rig off Interstate 25 near Erie in Weld County, with Longs Peak in the background.

WASHINGTON • Two Colorado members of Congress expressed sharply divided views over oil and gas drilling on public lands during a U.S. House hearing Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, criticized the Trump administration for allowing more oil and gas drilling on federal land, while U.S Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, touted the economic benefits and questioned whether oil and gas drilling significantly contributes to climate change. 

At the hearing, Lamborn asked an economist who studies environmental regulation what would happen if environmentally-friendly candidates win the next election and impose tough restrictions on oil and gas drilling on public lands.

“That’s simply going to drive up prices,” said economist Nicolas Loris, a policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources held the hearing to determine whether policies on oil and gas drilling should be revised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The drilling produces large amounts of methane, which some climatologists say is the most potent and dangerous greenhouse gas.

Loris said negative consequences from tighter restrictions could have “adverse effects throughout the economy.”

“Would it do much for the environment?” Lamborn asked.

Loris answered, “It would not make any meaningful impact on climate change.”

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He said estimates on how oil and gas drilling on public lands might add to global warming are unreliable and “really all over the map.”

Some Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee cautioned that limiting U.S. oil and gas drilling would make the nation more dependent on foreign energy sources.

They also said it would not benefit the climate because oil and gas drilling in foreign countries typically lacks the strict environmental controls found in the U.S.

DeGette, however, accused the Trump administration of largely ignoring harmful effects of its environmental policies.

“Would you say the Trump administration is working to expand the extraction of oil and gas from public lands and offshore?” DeGette asked an environmental advocacy group official.

“Yes,” said David Hayes, director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.

“What do you think the Department of the Interior should do in the meantime to address climate change before we do some kind of legislation?” DeGette asked Hayes, who also was a deputy secretary of the Interior Department in the Obama administration.

He recommended more policies to reach “net zero” emissions, meaning greenhouses gases would be limited to the degree they no longer contribute to climate change. Hayes suggested halting oil and gas drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.

DeGette discussed a bill she introduced this year that would set aside 744,000 more acres of public lands in central and western Colorado as protected wilderness. They would not be eligible for commercial development.

Wilderness, particularly planting of trees, was discussed as a natural solution to greenhouse gas emissions. The photosynthesis performed by tree leaves removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replaces it with clean air.

“Could we get to the goals we need to solely by the natural solutions?” DeGette asked.

Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said natural solutions alone are inadequate to eliminate climate change.

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