DENVER – A Colorado task force is recommending that local governments be given a consulting role on some decisions about the location of large gas and oil facilities, but the panel decided against suggesting that cities and counties be allowed to enforce their own rules.
In a series of votes Tuesday, the task force also rejected proposals to require disclosure of all the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and to give surface property owners more leverage if someone else owns the minerals under their land and wants to drill.
The 21-member panel will submit its final list of recommendations to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday.
The recommendations include expanding the staffs of two state agencies that regulate gas and oil and monitor public health: the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
Hickenlooper created the task force in August to find ways to address conflicts created by gas and oil development.
Task force member Matt Sura said the panel failed on its two biggest tasks: clarifying the authority of local governments and addressing concerns about the locations of wells, tanks and other facilities.
“We owe Coloradans an apology for not doing better,” said Sura, a Boulder attorney who represents landowners and local governments in negotiations with energy companies.
Task force member Jeff Robbins said some of the proposals to give local government more control got the support of a majority of the panel but not the two-thirds vote required to become a recommendation.
“We reached consensus on some smaller steps. I’m going to be interested in the rule making” that would implement those steps, said Robbins, a Durango attorney who represents governments on regulatory issues.
Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the industry gave ground on local government involvement and the size of the state regulatory agency.
“We would have been content with the status quo,” said Schuller, who was not a member of the task force. But she said she was happy overall with the task force’s outcome.
The task force was part of a compromise Hickenlooper engineered to keep four divisive measures off the 2014 ballot. Two would have restricted drilling, and two would have encouraged it.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, backed the two ballot measures that would have put limits on the industry, but he agreed to withdraw them as part of the compromise. He said he was disappointed by the task force’s results.
“While a strong majority of the (task force) rose to the occasion and supported common-sense measures to address these issues, unfortunately the gas and oil industry proved they weren’t interested in a compromise or solving the problem,” he said in a written statement.
Before the task force even began voting on its recommendations Tuesday, a new group called Coloradans Against Fracking announced it would try to put a measure on the 2016 ballot to ban hydraulic fracturing. Members of the group were unhappy that the panel didn’t consider a ban.
“This task force has been turning a deaf ear to health concerns about fracking,” said Kaye Fissinger, a member of the group.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals to break up underground formations and release gas and oil.
Industry supporters in the Legislature tried their own pre-emptive strike last week when the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill to penalize cities that try to restrict fracking. The measure isn’t expected to survive the Democrat-controlled House.
None of the task force’s recommendations will be binding, but they’re expected to influence the public debate.
Other recommendations the panel agreed on include creating an gas and oil information clearinghouse, studying ways to reduce heavy truck traffic to and from oilfield sites, and asking the Legislature to endorse new state rules on pollution.
Some of the suggestions require the Legislature to act, but other suggestions can be done by state agencies.
Similar battles are playing out in other states, but it’s especially intense in Colorado, which has abundant gas and oil, a deep-rooted belief in property rights and a strong environmental movement.