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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.

Oil And Gas Task Force's Work Ends With Nine Recommendations

Dan Boyce
Inside Energy
Members of Coloradans Against Fracking line up to deliver health reports to members of the Oil and Gas Task Force.

Votes have been tallied on over 50 proposals seeking to reduce conflicts between the public and the oil and gas industry. When it was all said and done, the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force was able to send nine recommendations along. All passed with the two-thirds majority vote required.

One of the nine attempts to address the task force’s biggest charge -- finding compromise on whether local governments should be given more say when drilling is proposed near residential and urban areas, especially with larger multiwell operations.

"What we heard from the public is that the real issues are in the urban mitigation areas," said Brad Holly, a task force member and VP of operations at Anadarko Petroleum. "80 percent of the activity in the state, people are very happy with how that is progressing."

The recommendation set to tackle that urban conflict directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to begin a rule-making process. It would allow state regulators to locate facilities away from residential areas when possible, and when not, regulators would require companies limit the scale and intensity of their operations.

Holly called the recommendation and the entire task force process an absolute success, though not everyone on the panel felt that way.

"Is it a failure? Probably," quipped attorney Matthew Sura, a specialist in representing land owners and and local governments in their disputes with the oil and gas industry.

He believes the task force's two core mandates, dealing with large multiwell facilities and giving local governments more control, were not really addressed.

"On one issue I guess we kicked the can down the road and said we’re gonna do some rule making…on the other, on local government authority, we didn’t deal with it at all," Sura said.

The task force originated as part of a compromise to avoid a series of fracking measures on the November 2014 ballot. But, if members were hoping to stop those efforts in the future, Sam Schabacker with Food and Water Watch had news for them.

"We are very happy today to announce the launch of Coloradans Against Fracking, a new statewide coalition dedicated to banning this dangerous industrial process in our great state," Schabacker announced at a rally outside the task force's final meeting.

Longmont resident and retired nurse Karen Dike said she wants a statewide ban -- period.

"Unless we get something through the legislature that stops this attack on our citizens, then we will go to the ballot initiative," she said.

Dike would later walk comments on a ballot initiative back, telling the Denver Business Journal that she "misspoke."

The new Coloradans Against Fracking group filed into the meeting of the task force, armed with reports they said show the harmful health effects of oil and gas drilling. The reports were taken by task force organizers, but protestors were told the time for public comment had passed.

Sitting in the audience, Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Tisha Schuller was unimpressed.

"If you want to ban something that we all use, that’s a point of view but it’s not a meaningful contribution to the conversation," Schuller said.

Some of the other recommendations passed by the task force include adding staff to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, reducing truck traffic for oil and gas activities, and keeping in place methane regulations set to expire.

Governor Hickenlooper released a statement saying the task force made undeniable progress, adding, "We have not rested in addressing the tough issues that come with balancing quality of life with an important and thriving industry."

The task force will formally submit its recommendations to Hickenlooper Feb. 27 for either his approval or consideration by the state Legislature.

Inside Energy is a public media collaboration, based in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, focusing on the energy industry and its impacts.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect that activists had corrected statements they made in regard to a ban on the ballot.

Dan Boyce moved to the Inside Energy team at Rocky Mountain PBS in 2014, after five years of television and radio reporting in his home state of Montana. In his most recent role as Montana Public Radio’s Capitol Bureau Chief, Dan produced daily stories on state politics and government.
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