Power struggle hits Mountain West

The fight over energy and how to lower gas prices threw the Rocky Mountain West into the spotlight Wednesday when President Bush urged Congress to repeal a moratorium on the development of oil shale.

In a speech that spurred protests from Democratic leaders and environmentalists, Bush called for harvesting oil from shale rock found in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The president also advocated drilling for oil in coastal waters and the Alaskan wilderness, saying the tight supply is pushing up gas prices.

"Every American who drives to work, purchases food or ships a product has felt the effect," Bush said. "And families across our country are looking to Washington for a response."

Bush's words came as Republicans sought to make gas prices a centerpiece of their November campaign effort. GOP leaders and candidates blame Democrats for $4-a-gallon fuel, saying they repeatedly have blocked oil production. Democrats and environmentalists call those claims a political stunt. New production efforts would take years, they said, and do little to lower current pump prices.

"I suggest that if the president really wants to develop oil shale, that he first come to the Western Slope of Colorado and learn something about our experience with the economic crash in the 1980s," said U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo. "We can develop this resource, but we need to do it in a way that proves up the potential for jobs, economic stability and protects scarce water resources."

Additional caution is needed on oil- shale development, said Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, because the technology is mostly untested.

"No one not even the companies working on oil-shale development can tell us with any certainty how much energy it will take to develop this resource, where that energy would come from, what the impacts on Colorado's water supplies or quality would be, and what housing, transportation and other infrastructure needs will be," he said.