Civility of energy debate in question

Industry subject to ‘vicious attacks,' representatives tell Garfield County officials

Energy companies are questioning the objectivity of Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison and the worth of continuing county Energy Advisory Board meetings, where the industry says it is subject to “vicious attacks.”

County officials, meanwhile, fear a general breakdown in the level of communications on both sides in the debate over energy development in the state’s leading county for natural gas production.

“It goes along with the rest of society. We’re too polarized …” Commissioner John Martin said.

Representatives of seven companies raised their concerns in a Jan. 29 letter to Garfield County Manager Ed Green. They questioned the worth of the energy board, which is made up of industry, citizen, government and other interests.

“This forum has deteriorated into a toxic atmosphere that serves as a means to bash industry, with no direction to bring it back on course as a conflict-resolving and educational body,” they wrote.

“It’s not a civil discourse anymore,” Williams Production spokeswoman Donna Gray said this week.

The companies also complained in their letter of a “perceived partiality based on past comments made to the press and at certain public meetings” by Judy Jordan, the county’s point person on energy matters.

Jordan told county commissioners Tuesday she’s only trying to do her job of bringing issues of potential concern to them and leaving it to commissioners to decide if they merit any action.

“It’s not that I have an anti-industry bent,” she said.

County Commissioner Tresi Houpt encouraged Jordan to keep doing what she’s doing and said she has the support of commissioners.

“I think you’re doing a fine job,” Houpt said.

Commissioner Mike Samson told Jordan she’s not the only one taking criticism in the debate over energy development in the county.

“There’s others of us that get constantly belittled by both sides,” he said.

He said some people want little or no energy development. Others say the county is trying to do away with the industry, an assertion he called ludicrous. He said he thinks a lot of people in the middle want county officials to strike a balance between the extremes “and do what you think is best for everyone.”

Mike Meskin, a citizen representative on the energy board, said he is disappointed that the industry is suggesting disbanding the board. He said the board has fostered good dialogue, and the fact things sometimes have become heated simply reflects the conflicts between surface and mineral rights.

“I really think it’s sort of like a cowardly way out to say, ‘Oh, we don’t want to talk to you anymore,’ ” he said.


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