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Oil & Gas Task Force Ponders Recommendations In Greeley

Grace Hood

It's crunch time for the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force to craft recommendations on how to best minimize conflict between local and state government when it comes to the state's energy development. The group held their fifth meeting in Greeley to discuss a path forward.

Front and center are conflicts over drilling in more urban areas made possible by technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

"They are at a scale that is different, and larger than historic vertical wells and production wells," said Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Matt Lepore, explaining the rub. "If you want the crux of the issue for me that's it. It's scale, proximity, intensity."

Lepore said one concern is that production facilities that have up to 30 oil storage tanks can be situated near communities and they cause long-term problems and concerns for the public.

"They do have emissions and they do make people uncomfortable," said Lepore.

The task force discussed larger setbacks for the production facilities from the current 1,000 foot limit. Task force member and former Boulder Mayor Will Toor supported the idea.

"It is not clear to me that there are really any sense of mitigations that can go far enough to address the impacts of really large facilities if they're too close to residential areas," said Toor.

"If you want the crux of the issue for me that's it. It's scale, proximity, intensity."

Lepore said the COGCC is currently reviewing more restrictions on noise and vibration at well sites, and more restrictions on how flares are used near oil and gas sites. He also suggested that the state create an ombudsman position to answer questions about surface use agreements and other public questions. The idea for the ombudsman is to operate separately from the COGCC.

The overriding theme at each of the meetings conducted by the task force is how local governments and the state can resolve future conflicts over where oil and gas sites are placed. Does that mean more involvement of local governments in planning, or more discretion for the state oil and gas regulatory body, the COGCC?

Task force member and former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher said the two are fundamentally different approaches.

"That's the two conversations I'm hearing and they're both substantial," Buescher said.

The task force — comprised of representatives of oil and gas companies, environmental groups, government employees and citizens — is expected to dig deeper into potential recommendations on the second day of their meeting in Greeley, Jan. 16. The group will issue their findings no later than the end of February.

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