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Posted: April 24, 2014

Higher ed meets energy

Consulting firm engages students to make a case for fossil fuel

Gigi Sukin

Can Colorado afford to ban fracking?

That was the question posed to students from three Colorado universities by Denver-based management and strategy consulting firm RAS & Associates and nonprofits Western Energy Alliance and Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) earlier this month at the 2014 Case for Colorado competition. Students from CSU, University of Colorado and the University of Denver were presented with the case statement:

“Currently population estimates project 8 million people living in Colorado by 2040. Given this large population growth, how can Colorado support its growing energy needs in an economic, responsible and sustainable way? Can Colorado afford to ban fracking?”

The experience “gives the students the chance to look at real world problems -- shark tank-style,” said Aaron Johnson, communications analyst at Western Energy Alliance. “It’s meant to challenge them, to get them thinking.”

From morning until 3 p.m., the teams examined the interwoven energy, economic and environmental issues as they relate to responsible oil and gas development and crafted responses to present to a panel that included Hank Brown, senior council at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck; Scott Prestidge, energy industry manager at the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. (EDC); and Joyce Witte, senior community involvement advisor for Encana Oil & Gas.

“We really hit the ground running,” said Andrew McClaskey, accounting major at DU, of the daylong strategy session. He and his four peers opted to storyboard their “combined approach to a sustainable model” for energy development.

Each group was assigned a mentor from RAS to help hone in their ideas, McClaskey said.  However, “They were limited in what they could tell us,” he added.

The three participating teams were each given 10 minutes to relay their findings and then responded to follow-up questions from the panel. The winner was selected based on criteria including the realistic implementation of ideas; quality of resources cited; support and justification; complete answers; and public speaking abilities.

“The biggest challenge was how broad the question was. It was hard to narrow down and get creative in our thinking,” said Cameron Delphia, senior finance and management major at CSU. CSU's team was this year's winner of a $25,000 scholarship.

RAS has partnered with industry leaders in Colorado for the past six years in an ongoing attempt to explore solutions for energy development. CRED donated $25,000 as the event’s presenting sponsor. Previously the consulting firm has engaged CSU, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, DCP Midstream Partners, ConocoPhillips and others for similar case competitions.

“One of our core values is to make your own opportunities,” RAS Founding Partner Rob Swanson said. “This opens the floor for an informed discussion to shape the future of Colorado’s energy development.”

Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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