In February, Gov. Hickenlooper issued an executive order to establish a 12-member task force chaired by Mike King, executive director of Colorado’s Natural Resources Department. The task force was directed to determine whether the state or local cities and counties have control over drilling activity in the state and as well as drilling operations such as fracking.
The draft report was approved last week and outlines recommendations for state and local leaders to develop procedures for better communication, and for the oil and gas industry to make voluntary outreach efforts to local government leaders before undertaking large drilling projects. Industry leaders praised the report but some environmentalists cautioned that it needs a lot more work. A final report is scheduled to be submitted to the governor by Wednesday.
Stan Dempsey Jr., president of the Denver-based Colorado Petroleum Association and a task force member, said better communication will help alleviate growing tensions between industry and local elected leaders in areas where oil and gas drilling is taking off at near-unprecedented rates along the Front Range. Some Colorado counties in the I-25 corridor, in the path of the Niobrara formation have tried to usurp state authority and devise their own regulations for fracking.
“The recommendations, if implemented, will help our members work cooperatively and collectively with those local and state governments to increase communication,” Dempsey said. “I think we heard clearly from local government representatives that they want to hear more information about things that occur in terms of enforcement and permitting. And as long as things are already public, we don’t have a problem with that being shared, and if that helps local governments to better communicate with their constituents, that works for us.”
Barbara Green, a Boulder-based environmental and land-use attorney and a member of the group’s board of directors, represented Colorado Conservation Voters on the task force.
Colorado Conservation Voters Executive Director Pete Maysmith reacted cautiously to the report in a statement: “The fundamental goal of in participating in the governor’s task force was to reinforce protections for our air, water, land and public health from the heavy industrial activity of oil and gas development. The near final recommendations the task force has acted upon … are good first steps in meeting these goals.”
But Maysmith also pointed out they don’t address all the major issues, such as air and water quality, and proper setbacks of drilling operations from homes, schools and environmentally sensitive areas.
“We firmly believe oil and gas development must not come at the expense of the health and welfare of Colorado communities or our state’s natural heritage,” Maysmith said. “We look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Hickenlooper and the other members of the task force on these issues in the near future.”
Included in the recommendations in the 3-page task force draft report is a commitment from the state’s oil and gas industry trade groups to strongly encourage their member companies to work with local government leaders early in the project development phase.
According to the draft report, the COGCC and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs will develop a guidebook for regular work sessions and meetings between energy developers and local government leaders, as a way to improve communications about drilling permits and rules violations.
The task force also outlined recommendations for the COGCC to allow local jurisdictions to have inspection authority by establishing a delegated inspectors training program.
The draft report described these and other recommendations as “mechanisms to achieve a complementary regulatory structure that benefits our economy and protects our public health, safety, welfare, environment and wildlife.”
Tisha Conoly Schuller, president and CEO of the Denver-based Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), and a task force member, said the association is already working internally to disseminate the draft report to its members “to ensure they understand what’s expected of the industry going forward.” Schuller added, “I’m committed to implementing these recommendations. I was encouraged by the whole process. We all agree there’s room for improvement, and we found room for improvement. So I feel committed and also optimistic about the potential [for success] going forward.”