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State drilling panel weighs recommendations

Dan Elliott
Associated Press

DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper’s task force on oil and gas discussed proposals Monday that would force energy companies to disclose all the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and give local governments more of a say on where wells can be drilled.

The task force is winnowing down a list of 56 suggestions from members before making its recommendations to Hickenlooper on Feb. 27 on ways to resolve disputes over local control and landowner rights.

The 21-member panel hasn’t taken any final votes, and it wasn’t yet clear whether the proposals on chemicals and local government would be among its final suggestions.

When Colorado’s oil and gas industry was booming, residents complained as drilling rigs and hydraulic fracturing wells edged close to homes. Hickenlooper has said the state has final say over whether and where wells are drilled, but a number of communities attempted to limit or ban some kinds of energy development, including hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Hickenlooper formed the task force last year in a deal that kept four measures off the November ballot, two that would have restricted hydraulic fracturing and two designed to accommodate it.

Task force members Gwen Lachelt and Jon Goldin-Dubois proposed tightening disclosure rules for fracking chemicals. Some industry representatives on the panel raised doubts, saying some companies view the chemical combinations as intellectual property.

Task force member Jim Fitzgerald proposed that the state not approve any new wells unless local governments agreed to them first.

“This is a big deal, and these arguments ought to take place not only at a state level, but they ought to take place on a county level,” Fitzgerald said.

Another proposal would require energy companies to negotiate with local governments before putting multiple-well sites near homes.

Some multi-well sites are industrial facilities incompatible with residential zoning, said task force member Matt Sura, a Boulder attorney.

“These ain’t our grandparents’ oil and gas wells out there,” he said.

Task force member Perry Pearce suggested Sura’s proposal was too specific.

Pearce, a government affairs manager for ConocoPhillips, said the task force should focus on recommending areas where the state should exercise more control, not specific rules.

The goal for the group, comprising government leaders, industry representatives and residents, is to avoid a public vote on the ballot issues that were calling for a minimum of a 2,000-foot setback from residences for any new drilling. Many who worry about quality of life and health risks want the 2,000-foot setback to keep high-intensity drilling out of the backyards of neighborhoods and schools; others see such measures as industry killers during a drilling boom.

For a proposed recommendation to move forward to receive further discussion, there has to be a 50 percent vote on it during the meetings. But to move on to the governor, there must be a two-thirds majority.

Of the 56 recommendations, Weld County Commissioner Steve Moreno, who sits on the task force, said he sees a few with potential to move on to the governor.

“There’s a very small handful of things that will have (two-thirds) support,” Moreno said. “I think there’s been some excellent dialogue. But that said, I also believe there’s a sense of strong stances on some of the portions of the discussions.”

Task force member Russ George, a Western Slope representative, said the task force must keep in mind its original goal. George is a former speaker of the House and former executive director of Department of Natural Resources.

“The governor said from the beginning to collaborate to consensus,” George said. “We’ve been so hung up on our own point of view that we’ve forgotten that consensus.”

George suggested looking at everything a little differently and trying to come up with common values.

“Together we’ll figure out what works,” he said. “An I think we can do that on principle.”

The Greeley Tribune contributed to this report.


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