Task force reaction points to future ballot fight
Though a Colorado anti-fracking group backed away Thursday from a threat to pursue a 2016 ballot initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state, that option remains an overtone of comments by critics of recommendations reached this week by the governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force.
“The task force was tasked with addressing the legitimate concerns of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans fearful of the toxic health, environmental and property threats posed by an out-of-control fracking industry,” Harv Teitelbaum of the Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter said in a Thursday statement.
“Unfortunately, their recommendations fall far short of the mark,” he said, pointing to the lack of specific restrictions among the recommendations of the 21-member task force “to keep these heavy industrial operations away from homes, schools and communities.”
“The Sierra Club will continue to join these communities in raising our voices until actions are taken to keep our state safe from toxic fracking and move Colorado away from dirty and destructive fossil fuels, toward a far brighter green energy future,” Teitelbaum said.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that Karen Dike of Coloradans Against Fracking said the group has not ruled out a campaign to put a ban on hydraulic fracturing on the ballot next year.
If Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Legislature don’t seek regulatory remedies to reduce conflicts between oil and gas development and local communities, that remains an option, she said.
The special task force on Tuesday forwarded nine recommendations to Hickenlooper, including one to give a consulting role to local governments in determining the location of oil and gas wells and other large multi-well facilities.
Other measures earning the required two-thirds approval of the committee would increase staffing for two state agencies that regulate and monitor the industry, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission (COGCC) and the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment.
Hickenlooper, in a deal to keep several oil and gas questions off the ballot last fall, created the task force to find ways to address conflicts created by energy development.
None of the measures passed that would have required legislation to impose new regulations on the industry or prohibit certain activities, however.
That was perfectly fine with industry groups that had been closely following the process and that were heavily represented on the task force.
Even so, “The task force has proposed making the toughest oil and gas rules in America even more stringent,” Peter T. Moore, board chairman for the group Vital for Colorado, said in statement issued after the task force wrapped up its work.
“Even before the task force could vote, anti-energy industry activists declared the work of the task force a ‘ruse’ and announced their intentions to take a divisive statewide fracking ban to the ballot in 2016,” he said.
“We’re glad the task force, and the energy industry in particular, continued to work hard to find compromise that works for Colorado,” Moore added. “Colorado’s patience with these incessant threats of a ballot fight is running thin.”
‘WESTERN SLOPE WAY’
Some of the task force’s recommendations are also in line with suggestions contained in the “Western Slope Way” white paper issued by the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association when the task force met in Rifle in December.
That document urged against new regulatory measures. Instead, it offered that industry-supported approaches to dealing with conflicts, such as the Community Counts complaint hot line and the use of local government liaisons have and continue to work in Western Slope counties where there is oil and gas activity.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky declined to comment specifically on the task force recommendations, but said county government already has a strong role in working with operators and state agencies.
“I don’t see anything the task force proposed as a big change from what we’re doing now,” Jankovsky said. “We don’t want to get into the business of deciding where well pads should be, and prefer to leave that up to the COGCC.”
Leslie Robinson, who chairs the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance in Garfield County, said she was disappointed that the task force did not address some of the specific areas of conflict between citizens and industry.
“Concerned citizens came to the table willing to work towards solutions, but task force members with financial ties to the oil and gas industry have blocked any progressive measure to mitigate multi-well industrial impacts in residential areas,” she said.
While groups such as GVCA and Battlement Concerned Citizens aren’t proposing a statewide fracking ban, Robinson said the task force process has brought “like-minded” organizations across the state together to promote common objectives.
“From Rifle to Greeley, we have strengthened our resolve to work collectively with the governor and the COGCC for comprehensive, statewide regulations that will better protect our families, communities and water resources,” Robinson said in a prepared statement issued via the Western Colorado Congress, with which the GVCA is affiliated.
Dave Devanney, chair of the Battlement Concerned Citizens, a group of residents in the unincorporated community in western Garfield County that is surrounded by oil and gas development, said the task force failed in its mission.
“The governor should respect the testimony of everyday citizens across the state who are concerned about the impacts of oil and gas development when an industrialized drilling and multi-well production site is located near their homes,” he said in the same news release.
The Battlement group and other citizen coalitions, such as the North Fork Valley’s Citizens for a Healthy Community, had supported increased “health-based” setbacks between drilling locations and homes and schools, as well as increased local government control over oil and gas operations.
“Once again, we saw the oil and gas industry oppose common-sense safeguards and improvements to Colorado’s rules and laws,” Jim Ramey, director of the Paonia-based group, said in response to the task force recommendations.
“The heavy-handed approach by the oil and gas industry in Colorado just doesn’t work,” he said. “People won’t stand for it, and I expect they’ll carry protective solutions to the ballot box in 2016.”
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