Gas companies cool to idea of county energy advisory board |

Gas companies cool to idea of county energy advisory board

Kara Williams
Special to the Post Independent

Gas companies and gas industry trade groups told the Garfield County Commissioners Monday that they oppose forming a Garfield County Energy Advisory Board.

Instead, they advised the commissioners to create an advisory committee within the framework of the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum, a suggestion supported by Commissioner Larry McCown.

“We are in favor of any forum that facilitates constructive communication with stakeholders,” said Sher Long, spokeswoman for EnCana USA, which is active in drilling south of Silt.

But, she added, “We don’t want another layer of bureaucracy.”

The Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum is a multi-county meeting held two to three times a year, usually in Rifle, for gas industry staff, state and local government officials, citizens groups and local residents.

Forum meetings include updates on drilling activity in Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt counties and presentation on current issues, such as public lands leasing or impacts to private landowners.

Doug Dennison, Garfield County’s full-time liaison with the gas industry and residents, has asked the commissioners to also form an Energy Advisory Board to focus on drilling issues and conflicts within Garfield County.

Dennison is seeking a wider range of people to serve on the county energy board, including representatives from Garfield County government, the towns of Rifle, Silt and Parachute, the Battlement Mesa Oil and Gas Committee, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, Garfield school districts Re-2 and 16, Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association, residents from six drilling areas, including Roan Creek, Parachute/Battlement Mesa, Rulison, Grass Mesa, Mamm Creek and Divide Creek, and gas industry companies.

He said citizens perceive that the Northwest Oil and Gas Forum is biased toward industry.

Brian Macke, co-chair of the forum and deputy director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state regulatory agency, agreed that there may be a perception of industry domination.

“But that was never our intention. We have tried to bring information in an unbiased way to citizens,” he said.

Steve Soychak, president of the Western Slope chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, said the forum should continue to act as the main venue for communication between the county, operators, the state oil and gas commission and citizens.

Issues that the county energy board would address have been, and will continue to be, addressed at the forum, said Soychak, and it could meet more often, such as four to six times a year, to address increased drilling in Garfield County.

He also said the proposed size of the county energy board “may be too large to be a productive group.”

A smaller advisory committee “offshoot” of the forum could be formed to address specific conflicts and issues as they arise on an “as-needed basis,” said Soychak.

But Commissioner Tresi Houpt said Garfield County needs its own independent board.

“This is a new day, a new opportunity to come together to resolve issues. It would not be successful wrapping it into a forum that is perceived to be led by the industry,” she said.

Because few of the people who might be represented on the county energy board attended the Monday meeting, the commissioners asked Dennison to schedule a meeting that all the potential charter members could attend.

“We need everyone listed here to give input,” said Houpt, referring to a proposed resolution that would form the county energy board.

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