Scott Stanford: Energy industry fuels ‘Power Play’ |

Scott Stanford: Energy industry fuels ‘Power Play’

Scott Stanford

A large drilling rig sits on BLM land outside Parachute. The wells created by the rig will produce commercially viable natural gas for Williams. The Pilot & Today's five-part series "Power Play" examines the past, present and future of energy.

— Mike Lawrence’s first article in our Power Play series was more than 2,000 words. But it was the following paragraph that got my attention:

“This year, (geologist Vince) Matthews added, China will begin importing coal to support its rate of one new coal-fired plant coming on-line every three days.”

Repeat after me – one new coal-fired power plant every three days. EVERY THREE DAYS. Without the air-pollution regulations in place in the U.S.

It’s a stat that puts into perspective all the talk about moving to renewables. Ride your bike to work, reduce your electricity usage, cut your water consumption and check that box on your power bill that allows you to support wind power. While you’re at it, you might as well pour a glass of water in the Yampa (or the Pacific, for that matter).

For me, that’s the essence of Power Play, the five-part series we launched last Friday and continues every Friday through Aug. 17 in the Steamboat Today. Lawrence, photographer Brian Ray, copy editor Mike Hart and news editor Meg Wortman have invested months in putting this series together.

This is not a series about the environment, and it’s not a celebration of the energy industry. It’s a series that underscores the reality of how we get our energy, including how critically important energy extraction and production is to current and future economies of Northwest Colorado.

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In 2004, Colorado residents overwhelmingly approved Amendment 37, which requires the state’s utilities to get 10 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2015. Legislation passed this year raises those standards. Politicians at every level – particularly Gov. Bill Ritter and Sen. Ken Salazar – have expended significant political capital pushing for increased use of alternative energy resources. Wind farm openings have been highly celebrated, as has ethanol use. Industries, including several ski areas, are touting their use of “energy credits” to power their lifts.

Yet, what Power Play shows is that much of the aforementioned is nothing more than window dressing. Whatever Xcel is putting into wind energy pales in comparison to the company’s investment in coal, which is the past, present and future of power production in this state.

Hey, at least our coal burns cleaner than China’s. It says something that at Storm Peak Laboratory atop Mount Werner, many of the particles they have found in the clouds can be traced to coal-fired power plants in China. Scary.

And while the power folks are bullish on the future of coal, their optimism seems tepid compared to those in the oil and gas business. In installment two of the series Friday, Lawrence and Ray take you to Garfield County, where the fuel in the ground is paying for swimming pools, luring new stores and residents, and pushing home prices ever northward. The Piceance Basin covers 6,000 square miles, including much of Western Colorado, and there is enough natural gas there to fuel energy production for 100 years. It will only take tens of thousands of wells.

Oh yeah – did you know that just underneath the swath of land between Hayden and Steamboat is a rich oil field that new technologies have made ripe for drilling?

The reality of this series is that, for all the chatter about global warming and the need to do something different, the energy industry is growing by putting most of its money where it always has – into coal, into oil and into gas. The big three have never been bigger, and for better or worse, Northwest Colorado is smack dab in the center of it all.

I’m proud of the work our staff has done on this series, and I hope you enjoy it during the next few weeks. If you miss a Friday, you can read the entire series at or in a special section that will publish in the Pilot & Today on Sunday, Aug. 26.

As always, your feedback on the series is welcome.