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Coverage of energy that moves beyond polarized arguments and emotional debate to explore the points of tension, the tradeoffs and opportunities, and the very human consequences of energy policy, production, use and innovation.Inside Energy is a collaboration of seven public media outlets in the nation's energy epicenter: Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.

It's Crunch Time For Colorado's Oil And Gas Task Force

Dan Boyce
Inside Energy
Eric Ewing, pictured with his family, outside of their home in Weld County, Colorado with a gas processing facility in the background.

Eric Ewing once described his family's two acre plot on the rural Northern Colorado plains as heaven on earth. Now however, Ewing's household is surrounded by the unmistakable signs of oil and gas production - a large new processing facility, clusters of wells and tanks, even a recently drilled well 650 feet from his home.

"It feels like I live in a factory now," he said.

Ewing's concerns about noise, air pollution and quality of life impacts are exactly what Governor Hickenlooper's Oil and Gas Task Force is trying to appease. The group was created as part of a deal to avoid a handful of competing oil and gas ballot measures. But, time is running out for the group to submit policy recommendations.

"We've been given a very difficult task to accomplish in five months," said Gwen Lachelt, task force co-chair and La Plata County Commissioner.

The 19 members, split between government leaders, industry representatives and citizens, have been meeting since September 2014 to find ways to address the complaints of those who don't want drilling next to homes and schools while protecting constitutional mineral rights and trying not to hinder the oil and gas production, a major economic driver and job creator for the state.

The task force's multiday meetings so far have largely been information gathering. However, the scheduled meetings for the beginning of the month are critical to meet an end of February deadline for agreement on recommendations. The group can suggest state policy changes for the governor's office with a simple majority. Yet, two-thirds approval is needed for the group to formally suggest actual legislation to state lawmakers.

So far, Lachelt sees two broad areas of agreement: Large oil and gas facilities should be located further from homes and communities and more staff is needed at state regulatory agencies.

Credit Dan Boyce / Inside Energy
Inside Energy
One of the well pads within a few thousand feet of Ewing's home.

Will these discussions result in anything more than suggestions? Could real legislative action come out of the meetings?

"I'm hoping I'll be surprised," co-chair Lachelt said, "but given how political these issues are, and let's face it, the drop in oil prices will likely have an impact on the industry members of our task force."

Falling oil prices are likely to make the industry participants less willing to support expensive compromises. The representatives of the task force from oil and gas companies declined comment for this story. But, in an email response, task force member and Anadarko Petroleum Vice President of Operations in the Rocky Mountain Region Brad Holly wrote the following:

"Unnecessary and unproductive regulatory burdens on any industry are very costly, and can make it challenging to continuing invest capital in technology and infrastructure, particularly in a lower-commodity price environment. Regardless of commodity prices, Anadarko is going to continue to listen to concerns and collaborate with stakeholders to find reasonable and constructive solutions."

Another task force member, former Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher feels more hopeful.

"The industry, I think, wants to be good neighbors," Buescher said, "and they really want to find a way to work with local communities."

Despite the impacts on his personal life, Eric Ewing does not consider himself against the oil and gas industry broadly.

"Yeah, I mean, we have family that drill," Ewing said. "We need energy."

Yet, living in Weld County, where oil and gas is so often viewed as a major boost to the economy, Ewing said the production near his house has cost him $5,000 in the last year between lost wages, medical bills, and legal costs. Regardless of what the Oil and Gas Task Force comes up with, Ewing is looking at the possibility of relocating.

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