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Colorado Fracking Task Force Faces Big Task, Mixed Reception

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Having avoided an election filled with competing initiatives that were guaranteed to displease about half of the electorate, regardless of the outcome, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently created a task force to forge a path that both accommodates activist concerns, while ensuring that the state’s strong energy history continues. And while the task force likely faces some difficult days ahead, Hickenlooper used the right approach, according to two groups interesting in seeing the state maintain a balance between business and the environment and quality of life issues.

“We certainly see the task force as a genuine effort on our part to get thoughtful people to the table who are willing to downplay personal preferences and think about the best approach for the state of Colorado,” Todd Hartman, communications director at Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told Rigzone. “We know the task force has a tall order, and we’re confident well-intentioned participants will make an earnest effort to rise to it.”

Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) sees the issue similarly, and Jon Haubert, CRED’s director of communications, thinks that the process might present an educational opportunity for those with an interest in the issue.

“I don’t know if that will be one of the goals of the task force, but I hope it is. We always seem to come back to where we started, with the idea of the state making the recommendations. That is the most appropriate way, but people relatively new to the issue have to learn it,” Haubert told Rigzone.

A major goal of the task force is to ensure that Colorado does not slide into a patchwork of various energy restrictions that are decided by the different municipalities within the state, but has instead a set of state regulations allowing for continued exploration and production, while protecting the existing environment and quality of life.

A federal decision on energy exploration and production in the state would be too broad, since issues in one locale with a particular geology or terrain might not be applicable in another locale, Haubert said. However, continuing to leave the issue to each municipality within a state would prove too narrow, resulting in an unworkable hodge-podge of regulations that would not serve anyone well.

Six municipalities, including Lafayette, Boulder, Fort Collins, El Paso County, Loveland and Longmont, have already voted on fracking, and five of the six municipalities have voted to restrict it. The sixth, Loveland, voted in June to strike down a moratorium on fracking.

“Already, we have had the votes in two of the municipalities [Longmont and Fort Collins] overturned by judges. Leaving it to the state is a better approach,” Haubert said.

Colorado already has environmental regulations that are among the “best in the nation,” according to CRED. However, appointing a task force was “a pretty smart move by the governor,” University of Denver political science professor Peter Hanson told the Denver Post, which reported that Noble Energy Inc. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. supported the idea of a task force.

The taskforce plans to address a number of concerns, according to the University of Colorado Law School’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment’s Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project. These concerns include, but are not limited to:

  • Setbacks of oil and gas facilities
  • Floodplain restrictions
  • Protection of wildlife and livestock
  • Noise abatement
  • Operational methods employed by oil and gas activities
  • Air quality and dust management
  • Traffic management/impacts

That challenge facing the 18-person task force is formidable, and billions of dollars are at stake if the task force does not result in proposed legislation that addresses the concerns of the public, according to the Greeley Tribune.

While energy companies are trusting the task force to come up with some workable proposals for the state legislators to consider, some activists remain worried about the process, and have serious reservations.

“This closed-door negotiation undermines the collective will and desires of hundreds-of-thousands of Coloradans who need and desire real leadership to protect their health, safety and property from the harms of fracking,” said Food and Water Watch in a press release.

Colorado State Representative Jared Polis, who had initially supported initiatives against fracking, is taking a more centrist viewpoint on the task force, according to the Denver Post. The task force deal is “truly a victory for the people of Colorado,” and will result in the concerns of average citizens being considered equally with the oil and gas industry, Polis said in a press conference.

The variety of opinions is not a bad thing, said Hartman.

“As with any big public endeavor, there are those who have embraced this approach, and those who have come at it from a more skeptical viewpoint. That is as it should be in a country where we value the freewheeling expression of opinion.”



Gene Lockard has more than a decade of journalism experience covering the energy and petrochemical industries. Email Gene at gene.lockard@rigzone.com.

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