Ritter Energized by Canuck Trip, Eh?

A tour of one of the world’s largest open-pit mines for extracting tar sands in Fort McMurray, Canada, made an impression on Gov. Bill Ritter during his three-day trade visit to the Land up North. One thing for sure he surmised: a project like that would never fly in Colorado.
Gov. Bill Ritter wrapped up a three-day Canadian business trip where he toured a business incubator in Toronto and then continued west to the province of Alberta to talk with government officials and oil company representatives about energy development. Ritter said the McMurray pit mine tour was the highlight of his trip.

“It’s a massive project — with the largest volume of earth being moved, it makes it the largest mine in the world,” Ritter said, noting the tremendous cost on the landscape in near term.

“The land will be reclaimed over time, but now it is a site to behold,” Ritter said, describing the tar sand open pit mine. He was encouraged that Shell is considering an in situ process for oil shale development in Western Colorado. “It would leave a much smaller imprint on the land,” he noted, adding “an open pit mine in Colorado would be unacceptable.”

Top Canadian Shell oil officials told the governor that it won’t be until 2010 before they can test the full impact of their proposed oil shale situ process on water resources and air quality in northwest Colorado. “(Shell officials) said ‘we have heard you loud and clear’ when it comes to environmental impacts,” Ritter remarked.

Ritter also met with other energy companies that had ties to Colorado. He emphasized “robust” when he said: “We had a series of robust discussions with the different Canadian-based companies involved with oil production and infrastructure in the state.”

The governor said province officials gave an intensive economic summary of oil and gas impacts in Alberta. That included a review of recommendations to change the royalty collection structure, a proposal called “Our Fair Share” that has upset the industry, but that could add more than $1.5 billion to province coffers.

“When I asked about Alberta’s severance tax structure, nobody knew what I was talking about,” Ritter explained. “They have a royalty tax structure and all those funds go through the province treasury first and then out to programs like health care.”

Ritter got a chance to compare energy development impacts with McMurray officials.

“We talked about demands on infrastructure and work force, roads and bridges,” Ritter said. “The area grew at such a fast rate officials could not keep up with the growth. As we develop oil and gas on the Western Slope,” Ritter warned, “we need to be mindful that we don’t have to play catch-up.”