Packed gym airs concerns at meeting
PARACHUTE – Energy industry workers and representatives, environmental advocates and concerned residents sounded off on proposed oil and gas drilling rules Thursday night during a public meeting in Battlement Mesa. The public meeting, one of four the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hold across the state as it drafts new rules for oil and gas development in the state, drew enough people to almost fill the entire Battlement Activity Center’s gymnasium.In a public comment period during the meeting, some hailed the new oil and gas rules, while energy company officials, industry workers and independent owners said the proposed regulations could have a dramatic impact on the burgeoning natural gas industry in Northwest Colorado.”The regulations are subject to revision and refinement,” said Dave Neslin, acting director of the COGCC at the start of the meeting. “It is something we are providing to stakeholders and citizens like yourself to get your input.”The COGCC, in late November, issued an initial pre-draft rulemaking proposal for rules the agency may initiate as it moves forward with implementing House bills 1298 and 1341, which the state legislature passed last year. HB 1341 reconfigured the membership makeup of the COGCC and expanded its focus to consider public health and wildlife impacts. Its companion bill, HB 1298, requires the COGCC to use best “management practices to minimize harm from oil-and-gas development,” according to according to Gov. Bill Ritter’s office.The COGCC will hold three more meetings and organize work groups to gather comments and information prior to the development of draft rules. A preliminary draft of the rules, which would include public comment input from the four meetings, is expected sometime in March. Adoption of the final rules is expected by July 1.Some of the rules proposed by the COGCC include a new permitting process. The new Form 34 permit would seek consultation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Division of Wildlife during the approval process of oil and gas permits.Another proposed plan would be a voluntary process that would encourage companies to establish Comprehensive Development plans. They would address all of the “operator’s anticipated development” in a particular area, according to the proposed rules.Many energy industry workers in the audience feared the consequences of the proposed rules. Gene Cahalan, a safety operations manager for Parachute-based Blac-Frac, was one of them.”I think the (proposed rules) are a little bit stringent,” Cahalan said. “The industry itself has started on a set of procedures that are similar to the rules proposed.”But Lisa Bracken, who lies in Divide Creek south of Silt and spoke before the large standing-room only crowd, said she and her neighbors want to see a balance between the burgeoning gas industry and efforts to protect the environment and public health. She said she supports the new rules.”It’s been so unbalanced since 2003,” Bracken said. “The new rules are a step in the right direction. I think they are a strong indication that state legislators recognize the need to balance multiple interests, including public health safety and the environment. Those two have to come first because they have to last.” The crowded gymnasium was dominated by energy company workers and industry representatives. They erupted when Wade Haerle, a member of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce (GJACC), criticized the creation of the proposed rules, a process that Harele said occurred without any input from industry.EnCana Oil and Gas Development (USA) had a large contingent of workers at the meeting after the company asked its employees to attend last week. EnCana also asked local area nonprofits to attend the meeting, according to a letter written by Darrin Henke, vice president for the South Rockies Business Unit of EnCana. “Based upon an outline of the rules circulated in early December, we know that if implemented, these proposed rules will undoubtedly result in less tax revenue to local and state governments, costly delays in permitting, and less production of the low carbon-emitting natural gas Coloradans rely on as a key part of their secure, stable and affordable energy supply,” Henke wrote. Some of the new rules proposed by the COGCC, such as the Form 34 permitting process, were welcome news for Duke Cox, interim executive director of the Western Colorado Congress, a grassroots advocacy organization that advocates responsible environmental stewardship.”I think it is a good step,” Cox said. “One of the problems created by the hasty drilling permitting process was a deficiency in our ability to consider potential problems. Giving the CDPHE and the Division of Wildlife an opportunity to review applications is a prudent move.”Cox viewed the proposed rules as a way to balance the previous situation in Colorado that favored “all out, no-holds barred energy development.””Even though energy representatives are crying foul, these measures will not drive the industry from Colorado,” Cox said.Judy Jordan, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, said after the meeting that she appreciated the COGCC’s efforts to hear the concerns of residents and energy company representatives about the proposed rules. “There is a need for that to happen,” Jordan said. Contact Phillip Yates: firstname.lastname@example.org
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