County to form advisory board on drilling issues |

County to form advisory board on drilling issues

Garfield County’s Board of Commissioners took the first step toward establishing a natural gas advisory board Monday.

Community activist Peggy Utesch applauded the advisory board’s formation.

“Creation of this board will be an excellent roundtable for landowners and the industry to be heard,” said Utesch, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “It’s a good way to start proactive problem-solving.”

The board, proposed by Garfield County oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison, is tentatively being called the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. It does not yet have any bylaws or board members.

Its mission statement calls for providing “a forum for industry, the public and local government to prevent or minimize conflict associated with oil and gas development through positive and proactive communication and actions, and to encourage responsible development of these resources within Garfield County.”

Conflicts between landowners and the natural gas industry have increased in recent years as hundreds of wells have been drilled on public and private land in west Garfield County, and hundreds more are planned.

One of the board’s main goals, included in a draft paper Dennison presented at Monday’s county commission meeting, is to “provide a forum for managing the conflict between landowners and operators by improving the communication between both parties.”

To accomplish that goal, Dennison envisions the board establishing “best practices” that should be followed by both parties to encourage early and continued dialogue between the parties.

The Energy Advisory Board will also educate local governments and the public by compiling and sharing information.

Dennison’s draft list of board members included representatives from 17 governmental agencies, businesses, and other organizations, including the towns of Rifle, Silt and Parachute, Garfield County, Roaring Fork RE-2 School District, the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, gas industry representatives and citizens.

The main point of discussion Monday was deciding how big the board should be.

County Commissioner Larry McCown said a board with 17 members could lead to “crowd control” problems, and Commissioner John Martin said it would be hard to focus such a large group.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt disagreed, and said some nonprofit group facilitators favor large groups because they can become working boards.

Utesch also favors a large board.

“Governments like smaller boards, but you end up sacrificing process for expediency,” Utesch said. “Eventually, everyone who is affected has to be brought to the table.”

The commissioners left open the number of board members, but McCown suggested one representative from each of five natural drainages in western Garfield County, including Parachute Creek, Hunter Mesa and Divide Creek.

McCown also cautioned the board shouldn’t become a negotiating entity between surface rights property owners and mineral rights owners.

“That’s not what the group is being formed to do,” Dennison replied.

The commissioners instructed Dennison to return with board bylaws in January.

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

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