Task force talks about regulatory, nonregulatory approaches
RIFLE — Voters may very well be back with more ballot proposals aimed at new regulations on oil and gas development in two years, regardless of what Gov. John Hickenlooper’s specially appointed task force comes up with in the meantime.
But that can’t stand in the way of the group’s work to at least address the issues and attempt to come up with some recommended solutions, regulatory or not, task force members said Thursday during the second day of a two-day meeting here.
“There’s nothing this task force can do to prevent another round of ballot initiatives in 2016,” task force member Perry Pearce, state government affairs manager for energy company ConocoPhillips, conceded during Thursday’s discussions at the Farm Fresh Cafe meeting hall.
The prospect of future ballot initiatives aside, “our job is to define the best future process going forward,” he said during a portion of the meeting when members of the 21-person task force split into two smaller groups in an attempt to begin refining the issues and eventually come to some consensus.
The group’s recommendations, expected early next year, could lead to yet another lengthy rule-making process by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, similar to the one that produced new air quality regulations two years ago.
Or they could be geared more toward developing better cooperation between the state and local governments and agreements with energy companies to better deal with public health, safety and other impacts associated with the siting of oil and gas facilities in the state.
Task force member Bernie Buescher, a former Colorado secretary of state from Grand Junction, for one, doesn’t think the group’s work so far is leading down the path of new regulations.
“The conversations we’ve been having these past few months have been more about cooperation and collaboration, not about more regulation,” Buescher said during the break-out session. “That’s just not been the conversation we’re having.”
That would certainly be the preference of many Western Slope representatives who spoke during the meeting Wednesday and encouraged the task force not to come up with a “one-size-fits-all” statewide approach.
In an effort to sway the task force away from new regulatory measures, area government, business and energy industry officials unveiled what they called the “Western Slope Way” campaign. That approach urges the task force, Front Range governments and operators to explore things like advisory boards, local government designees and industry hotlines that have proven successful in western counties, including Garfield.
Given the much larger population and more pronounced interface between urban-scale residential neighborhoods and oil and gas activity in places like Weld and Boulder counties compared with the rural Western Slope, such efforts could prove challenging.
And some communities may not be able to afford to hire a designated oil and gas liaison, such as Garfield County has, said task force member Matt Sura, an attorney who works with citizens groups on oil and gas issues. He suggested new legislation to allow local governments to impose a fee on energy producers to help pay for local government liaisons.
Conflicts between residential neighborhoods and oil and gas facilities, and the potential for health impacts and safety concerns, are not exclusive to urban communities, task force member Jeff Robbins, also an attorney, said.
“People all across the state are dealing with the impacts of multiple well sites by their homes, and they can’t do a damn thing about it,” Robbins said, calling for better statewide rules relating to setbacks between homes and industrial facilities.
In Garfield County, residents of the Battlement Mesa community have also called for just that, saying the state’s newly required 500-foot separation should be upped to 1,500 feet in planned residential communities.
Identifying a way for companies to draw up specific plans for well sites and other facilities within such areas, called “comprehensive drilling plans,” is an idea that could earn broader support among task force members.
“That’s where values collide, is on the location of these facilities within these urban areas,” said task force member Russ George of Rifle, a former Colorado speaker of the House and director of the Department of Natural Resources who is now president of Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely.
The oil and gas task force is to have its next meeting in Greeley in January, when it is expected to hear from state public health officials and others about health and safety concerns associated with oil and gas development, including various studies that have and are being conducted related to air and water quality.
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