County to pursue Energy Advisory Board |

County to pursue Energy Advisory Board

RIFLE ” A group of about 25 people met at the Rifle Fire Station Tuesday night. Their mission: another kind of firefighting ” putting out fires between Garfield County residents and gas industry companies.

Maro Zagoras, a professional facilitator from Silt, led the meeting.

The group of local landowners, oil industry representatives, government officials and concerned citizens met for the first time to talk about forming the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. If the regional group is formed by Garfield County Commissioners, it would be authorized to discuss rule-making, offer informed insights and work out grievances about gas production-related issues in a neutral setting.

As natural gas production increases throughout Garfield County, so do tempers and tensions between gas industry operators and landowners, as well as those concerned about the industry’s effects on the environment, wildlife habitat and water use.

Production has doubled here since 2000, and Garfield County is now the third largest producer of natural gas in Colorado. And gas production continues to increase. For 2004, the state has already approved more than 500 new gas wells in the county.

Who will serve

Doug Dennison, Garfield County oil and gas auditor, organized Tuesday’s preliminary meeting.

“I’ve been asked to look into creating a more positive approach to bring citizen groups and oil company operators together,” Dennison told the group. Dennison said he’s attended several workshops in other Colorado counties and collected research from other Western states that are dealing with increased gas and oil production.

Dennison’s concept of the EAB is to appoint voting charter members from local governments, gas industry, citizen’s groups, school districts, agriculture and residents of impacted areas.

Nonvoting supporting members would be used as resources. They could include representatives from public land agencies, emergency responders and local chambers of commerce.

Those at the meeting also suggested several other supporting board member categories including local sportsmen and outfitters, public land conservation groups and water district representatives.

Dealing locally

Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt attended the meeting and favors forming the group.

“We need a way to deal locally with these issues,” she said.

But there’s opposition to forming the advisory board ” even among county commissioners.

Commissioner Larry McCown, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, said Monday he favors utilizing the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum, a public meeting held two to four times a year and organized by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“We all have enough meetings to go to,” McCown said.

But Houpt doesn’t believe the forums give adequate time to work out solutions, and defended her position to form the EAB.

“Look at the numbers that were at Monday’s forum,” Houpt said of the 200 people who came to the latest Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum held in Rifle. “There are so many problems, and all of those can’t go to the state. I’d rather see us as a county have an advisory board to address local issues.”

Houpt also said, “there’s a strong perception of those living in areas like Garfield County with a lot of gas production activity that the COGCC is aligned with the industry.”

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin attended Tuesday night’s meeting but had a different opinion.

“I disagree with Tresi,” he said. Like Commissioner McCown, he favors folding the Energy Advisory Board into the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum.

Sam Potter of Rifle offered his perspective.

“I was here during the oil shale boom,” he said. “We formed the same kinds of citizens groups, and nothing happened.”

But he said the board should be sure to include a representative from the local water district, because drilling uses a lot of water.

‘Thanks for the offer’

However, by the end of the meeting, the group had drafted their prospective member list, reviewed the board’s objectives, and, most importantly, determined that the formation of such a board should proceed. The group also chose several dates for a second meeting at the end of March which Dennison will schedule.

And the final agenda item ” paying Zagoras for her time ” demonstrated a lot about the future of the EAB.

“OK, EnCana has offered to pay for my services,” Zagoras told the group. “How does everyone feel about that?”

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin stood up.

“You know, we appreciate the offer, but the county is going to pick up the tab,” he said. “This is our advisory group. Thanks for the offer, though.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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