FORT LUPTON — Former Gov. Mitt Romney chose what is becoming an increasingly familiar Colorado landscape as the backdrop for his first campaign stop here since becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee: an oil derrick and a tanker truck, amid the sunny fields of the Front Range.

Romney is scheduled to speak around 10 a.m. near the Fort Lupton field office of K.P. Kauffman Co., a privately owned oil and gas company that was started by its CEO in 1984 and now operates and owns a majority working interest in over 1,300 producing oil and gas wells.

The former Massachusetts governor is expected to tell voters that America needs a faster, more streamlined process for approving oil and gas permits, increased domestic production and greater focus on research and development of new energy technologies.

He has said President Obama's policies, by contrast, have stifled the domestic energy sector and hurt the economy and national security.

The visit is shining a spotlight on the ongoing tension between those who say the government needs to increase oil and gas production and those who argue that with production at an all-time high, America must consider its potential impacts on health and the environment, and balance oil and gas with other options.

That debate has been particularly intense in recent years along the Front Range. Earlier this year, the town of Erie implemented local air and water quality rules for drilling operations after a vocal group of residents asked the state to look into whether operations could be harmful to children, and the state said it didn't have the resources to do so. Last week, residents in east Loveland asked the city council to put a moratorium on exploration and production there.

But Romney supporters gathered prior to today's event said that with gas prices and the economy in their current state, it's time to step up, not slow down.

"Let's start drilling again," said Erich Feigel, chairman of hte Broomfield County Republicans. "Stop this nonsense with windmills and solar power. It doesn't work."

The debate also spilled over into Colorado's Congressional races, as the conservative group Compass Colorado announced it is launching a new billboard campaign in the Denver and Grand Junction areas. The 28 billboards show President Obama flanked by a Democratic Congressional candidate and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and state "Higher gas prices — Yes! U.S. Energy Independence — No."

Romney's opponents fired back, criticizing his connections to big oil companies that have enjoyed billions in profits and tax breaks.

"In Colorado, like all energy producing states, we face a constant tension between the economic need for energy and the consequences of oil and gas production," said Joanne Kron, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. "What we don't need is a politician with a self-serving agenda using Colorado as a backdrop to mislead the public. We're asking for Romney to tell the truth about energy, not run cover for the speculators picking Americans' pockets day after day."

Romney was last in Colorado in February, when he finished second in the Republican caucus behind former Sen. Rick Santorum — who easily won Weld County.

Santorum later suspended his campaign. He endorsed Romney in an email to his supporters.

Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, issued a statement Tuesday saying Romney will have "a lot of big questions to answer" upon his return.

"It's been nearly three months since Gov. Romney closed up shop and darted out of Colorado after a poor showing in the GOP caucuses," he said. "In that time, he's doubled down on his support for extreme policies that would only weaken our economy and Colorado's middle class."

The Fort Lupton stop is Romney's only public event in Colorado. Afterward, he will head to Oklahoma.

Sara Burnett: 303-954-1661 or sburnett@denverpost.com

Staff writer Yesenia Robles contributed to this report.