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Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force Mission Questioned

Greeley Drilling Photo.JPG
Photo by Kirk Siegler
A drill rig operating in the city of Greeley, Colo.

One Republican member of a governor-appointed task force on oil and gas drilling says the panel is little more than political cover for state leaders who don’t want to deal with the controversial issue of fracking – and its spread into populated areas along the Front Range.

After lawmakers killed several bills that would have given local governments more authority to regulate oil and gas drilling, Governor Hickenlooper appointed a 12 member task force to study the thorny issues and potentially make policy recommendations by next month.

There were at times impassioned debates as the task force held its second meeting in Denver Thursday.

“People are furious,” said Brian Bagley, a Longmont city council member. 

Bagley has quickly emerged as one of the task force’s most vocal opponents. 

“I was quoted yesterday as saying that the task force is a joke,” Bagley said. “I was asked specifically, ‘what are your thoughts on the task force,’ and I said, ‘I kind of think it’s a joke,’ because I feel like we’re providing political cover for people I don’t care about.”

Bagley predicted that the panel would get bogged down in process, instead of coming up with solutions so that cities like his could pass their own regulations to limit drilling. 

Longmont is among several Front Range communities that have recently enacted temporary drilling moratoriums.

The city of Fort Lupton in neighboring Weld County, which has seen drilling for decades, has not.

Mayor Tommy Holton, who’s also a member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, butted heads with Bagley during the Thursday meeting.

“I really don’t understand where Councilman Bagley’s coming from because we have none of those concerns,” Holton said. “We’ve got 50-60 within the city limits, right surrounding the city, we grew up with it.”

Weld County is one of the most drilled counties in the nation right now, and officials from there told the panel that the current rules were working just fine. They also said they’ve had few pollution or noise complaints even with the recent ramp up in drilling. Officials from counties newer to drillingtold different stories. 

That prompted Tisha Conoly Schuller, a task force member and president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, to call for more dialogue between counties and industry.

“What we’ve heard today is that there’s a true disconnect between the counties and jurisdictions that have a lot of experience and those that are new to it,” Schuller said.  

The task force has until April 18th to issue its report to the governor. 

Some want to see recommendations for new legislation on tougher setback rules buffering rigs from homes, and look at whether the state has enough inspectors out on the ground. 

There are currently more than 45,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, and only fifteen state regulators inspecting them.

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