Official burned midnight Aussie oil during hearings

When the lunch breaks arrived for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission during six days of recent rulemaking, Commissioner Rich Alward sometimes used the time to power-nap instead.

It was hard to blame him. Alward was participating via the Internet while in Australia, where at times the commission meetings started at midnight for him.

Having traveled a great distance to visit his wife in Australia, Alward, an ecologist and environmental scientist based in Grand Junction, went to great lengths to participate in hearings on new groundwater testing and drilling setback rules in Colorado.

With the help of commision hearing manager Robert Frick, Alward used Google Chat, a Skype-like service, to remotely join in the hearings.

Alward participated in a daylong — or in his case nightlong — hearing in November, a two-day one in December and a three-day marathon in January.

“This morning was my first cup of coffee in a week because I just realized I had to cut back after I did those three days of the hearing,” Alward, who is now back home, said Friday.

Alward’s wife, Tamera Minnick, is an environmental science faculty member at Colorado Mesa University on a research sabbatical in Australia.

Alward said he already had purchased plane tickets to visit her when the hearings were set.

Had they just been regular commission proceedings, he said, he would have asked to be excused.

“But this rulemaking I thought was really important, and (it was important) to make sure that my voice was part of the rulemaking and that I helped with the decision-making,” he said.

Said Frick, “That was definitely a commitment on Commissioner Alward’s part. He truly showed professionalism and commitment to the COGCC.”

Despite Alward’s middle-of-the-night participation, “These are issues I care about, and so it wasn’t difficult to keep alert,” he said.

Alward said that while there are obvious advantages to being there in person, the remote technology has its place. A similar setup allowed scientist Theo Colborn to testify while staying home in Paonia.

“This can really expand who gets to participate in these decisions. I think it’s great,” he said.

As for the rulemaking outcomes, Alward said the new groundwater rules, which require pre- and post-drilling tests around well sites, are “a big step forward” in terms of being able to monitor for possible contamination.

Setbacks from buildings have yet to be finalized, but Alward said they have the potential to go far to improve the safety of people living near drilling.


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