Guidelines for oil, gas are released
A state task force has agreed on nine recommendations for balancing land uses and reducing conflicts related to oil and gas development.
But critics say it failed to accomplish the work asked of it, and a coalition Tuesday said it will pursue a 2016 state ballot measure to ban hydraulic fracturing because the task force fails to make recommendations to protect residents from fracking.
A coalition calling itself Coloradans Against Fracking announced its plans in Denver, where the task force was holding its final meeting. Among the coalition’s dozens of members are Food & Water Watch, WildEarth Guardians, and several local citizens groups in Colorado, including the Valley Organic Growers Association, based in the North Fork Valley.
The oil and gas task force approved the measures Tuesday — seven of them unanimously — and will forward them to Gov. John Hickenlooper by the week’s end. He appointed the task force as part of a deal that kept several oil and gas measures off last year’s state ballot.
Among the measures approved Tuesday were ones calling for increased Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staffing, a process for local government collaboration with energy companies to mitigate impacts of proposed large facilities in urban areas, and several means of boosting the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s involvement in dealing with health and environmental aspects of oil and gas activities.
But the task force Tuesday rejected some 25 other recommendations proposed by task force members due to their failure to win approval of at least two-thirds of members. Several of the measures failed despite winning approval by a majority of task force members, due to “no” votes from industry representatives and/or others.
Immediately after the vote, task force member Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of the Western Resource Advocates conservation group, issued a statement saying the task force “made small strides but failed to address our central task, providing people in communities and local governments with new tools to protect their homes, public health and safety, and the environment.
“… The majority of members of the task force saw resolving the conflict between local government and oil and gas development as the central issue. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry blocked the most meaningful recommendations on local government’s role in protecting its citizens.”
Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry group, countered that the changes “will enhance the role of local governments. The recommendation will allow conflicts to be worked out earlier while also working to ensure local government needs are addressed in the state permitting process. That’s a positive move forward. We welcome community engagement and believe the more information that Coloradans have about oil and gas development, the more they will be open to developing our natural resources in a safe and efficient manner.”
Schuller appeared to be referring in part to a measure put forward by Bernie Buescher, a former Colorado secretary of state who also served as a Democrat from Grand Junction in the state House of Representatives. It recommends a means for local government to be involved with and potentially influence energy companies’ choices of large facilities in urban locations before state permitting for such sites is obtained. As amended and presented Tuesday, the measure also includes concepts such as a mediation process if collaboration doesn’t produce an agreement.
The revised measure won enough praise that it caused task force members to agree to withdraw some other proposals if it passed. But while it passed unanimously, some on the task force said it didn’t go far enough because it merely involved local government more closely in the process rather than clarifying or enhancing local government’s role in oil and gas regulation.
The task force supported the Health Department’s request to the legislature to make five temporary air-monitoring and leak-detection jobs permanent, and the agency’s recommendation to create a health complaint and information line. It also encouraged the agency to seek funding for a mobile air quality monitoring unit and associated staffing, and funding for a human health risk assessment.
But it rejected a recommendation for a review of fracking studies related to public health, and if needed a suspension of drilling and fracking while a comprehensive study is done to determine if they’re safe.
It also turned down recommendations to require earlier disclosure of chemicals used in fracking than is now mandated in Colorado, and to remove trade secret exemptions to disclosure. Likewise, it rejected a recommendation to change COGCC rules to acknowledge and require companies to follow local land-use rules that might be stricter than COGCC rules.
It did call for convening a working group to look at ways of reducing truck traffic related to oil and gas development, for creating an oil and gas information clearinghouse, and for passing legislation making the state’s new rules targeting methane emissions permanent, among other recommendations.
Jim Ramey, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community in the North Fork Valley, said the task force failed to address the issues that resulted in its creation — “increased 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. The heavy-handed approach by the oil and gas industry in Colorado just doesn’t work. People won’t stand for it, and I expect they’ll carry protective solutions to the ballot box in 2016.”
Said Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, “If the task force process did anything, it has energized like-minded people and organizations across the state to realize they have common objectives. From Rifle to Greeley, we have strengthened our resolve to work collectively with the governor and the Colorado oil and gas commission for comprehensive, statewide regulations that will better protect our families, communities, and water resources.”
Meanwhile, the group Protect Colorado, an issue committee that also goes by the name Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, said Food and Water Watch and its new “front group, Coloradans Against Fracking,” showed they never intended to give the task force a chance to work, announcing their ballot measure Tuesday before the task force even made its recommendations.
“Their only goal was — and still is — to ban fracking in Colorado, regardless of the devastating economic impacts and the threat to personal property rights,” Protect Colorado said.