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Governor Broadens Mandate For Colorado Oil/Gas Task Force

As the final meeting for polishing recommendations approaches, Colorado's oil and gas stakeholder task force, which is examining local control issues, has received broadened guidelines from Gov. John Hickenlooper.

While proposed recommendations for the state legislature were an initial focus, Hickenlooper in a letter sent Friday said proposals may also be offered that would be implemented through regulatory, policy and government staffing changes. And he urged the reportedly divided 21-member panel to seek a two-third vote of support on all of the measures.

The task force was set up last summer through an executive order by Hickenlooper (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9, 2014).

In addition to the executive order’s mandates, “I also expect to receive reports on each of the items on which a two-thirds vote is not obtainable," Hickenlooper said. "This is not the end; Colorado will continue to strive to be the leader in fostering responsible oil/gas development."

In recent weeks the prospects for a majority of the task force members agreeing on recommendations to state lawmakers were seen as dim (see Shale Daily, Jan. 23). Some stakeholders during the most recent meeting described deliberations as "murky," even as 56 proposed recommendations were made public in a 91-page draft.

On Tuesday, the list of recommendations was only whittled down by a few, and the vote was a simple majority (11) to keep a draft proposal alive for the last meeting on Feb. 24, according to an industry source in Denver. To become official recommendations following the upcoming meeting, proposals will have to obtain a two-thirds majority (14).

An observer of the task force machinations, which are being guided by third party facilitator the Keystone Group, said four of the recommendations failed receive a majority vote of support including:

  • Extending existing required setbacks for wells beyond the current 500-foot requirement; and
  • Health, safety requirements for increased setbacks.

Items that are still on the slate involve creating a dispute resolution process between local government and oil/gas operators; increasing state oversight staff; doing more health studies of the impacts of oil/gas operations; merging state oil/gas and transportation efforts to deal with oil/gas-related truck traffic, and creating a clearinghouse of industry information.

"There is a sense that the task force needs to offer some recommendations, but I don't think anyone expects there will be two-thirds to support anything substantive that will prevent a 2016 statewide ballot measure," an industry source following the task force told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday.

Tisha Schuller, head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said five months of task force meetings have reinforced the long-held notion that there are no easy answers. However, she encouraged the task force to come up with "constructive and truly collaborative solutions." The panel needs to "find the balance necessary to ensure a stable and certain business environment," Schuller said.

Two other recommendations drew majority opposition, with 52% opposing a move to protect the public from possible negative health impacts from hydraulic fracturing, and 57% opposed to a allowing property to be condemned adjacent to a drilling site.

Recommendations also are being considered for a complaint telephone hotline, while another would add field inspectors and others in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

Co-chairs La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and XTO Energy Inc. President Randy Cleveland have reportedly urged members to get behind as many recommendations as possible. The makeup of the panel splits members between those seeking more local say over development and those wanting it left to state control through COGCC.

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