Colorado's 21-member task force on Tuesday issued nine recommendations regarding local control issues on oil and natural gas development after failing to get majority support for more than 30.
Most of the recommendations to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who appointed the task force, may be dealt with by the governor as regulatory matters and would not require action by state lawmakers.
The proposals include allowing for more input by local communities on regulatory activity, expanding the staff of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), creating an information clearinghouse for the public, and cracking down on truck traffic around wellsites. The task force recommendations suggest that:
COGCC conduct a rulemaking to address local government collaboration with operators on large-scale facilities in urban mitigation areas;
Future drilling and production facilities be included in existing local comprehensive planning processes;
Enhance roles/functions for local government liaison and local government designees;
Increase COGCC full-time staff, including inspectors, field operations, enforcement and permitting;
Enhance staffing, organization and tools of the state Department of Public Health and Environment;
Create an oil/gas information clearinghouse through the governor’s energy office;
Reduce truck traffic on public streets, roads and highways for oil/gas activities;
State’s General Assembly approve SB 15-100, a rule review bill, endorsing all new rules not otherwise legally invalid; and
COGCC implement a compliance assistance program to help operators comply with operating rules and policies, and assure that inspectors enforce those rules and policies in a consistent manner.
Hicklenlooper commended task force members for their "determination and willingness to really hear each other," and called the recommendations "significant in both breadth and the level of consensus they achieved.
"We have not rested in addressing the tough issues that come with balancing quality of life with an important and thriving industry. From advances in groundwater protections and methane limits to today's [task force] recommendations that ensure protection of people, industry and the environment, working together is how we always find the right solutions for Colorado.”
Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Tisha Schuller said the recommended changes would "enhance the role of local governments," allowing for earlier conflict resolution and more assurances that local government needs will be 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.
"The task force worked hard to find compromise on some contentious issues, and we are grateful for their efforts. This cadre of state leaders has spent hundreds of collective hours working toward solutions. We are committed to continuing to work on forging compromises that move the conversation about responsible energy development forward."
Hickenlooper formed the task force last August as a way to get several pending pro- and anti-industry measures pulled from last November's ballot (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9, 2014). Denver-based American Petroleum Institute’s Erik Milito, upstream and industry operations director, said the task force engaged in some "thoughtful dialogue," but there is more work to do.
State policymakers need to "avoid creating unnecessary or unintentional roadblocks to the responsible energy production that is driving Colorado's economic growth,” Milito said. He said the industry has a long history of working collaboratively with state and local officials.
"Maintaining a balance is critical," he said, noting that the state already has "comprehensive and robust regulations" covering oil and gas operations that still allow the industry to provide about 200,000 jobs.
Coloradans Against Fracking on Tuesday reportedly unveiled plans to pursue a statewide ballot measure next year to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing.
Frank J. Macchiarola, executive vice president of government affairs of America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), said, "We recognize the governor’s task force for coming up with a set of recommendations. And we are strong supporters of local engagement in communities where we operate. Natural gas production leads to billions of dollars of investments in the state each year and raises millions more in tax revenue, all while creating and supporting thousands of jobs. Colorado residents have some of the lowest energy bills in the nation. Meanwhile Colorado is driving toward cleaner air thanks to greater use of natural gas."
Macchiarola said ANGA would be reviewing the recommendations with its members to consider their effect. "However, any policy going forward must protect human health and the environment while also continuing this economic, environmental and energy security success story delivered by Colorado natural gas."
Protect Colorado, a pro-industry group, responded. "The state is right back to where it started from because these extreme groups didn't operate in good faith," said spokeswoman Karen Crummy.