Denver: Executive Order creates task force to examine oil and gas regulatory jurisdiction between the state and local governments

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Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office (Eric Brown):

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order today that creates a task force to help clarify and better coordinate the regulatory jurisdiction between the state and local governments over oil and gas operations.

The task force is expected to report its recommendations and findings to the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate no later than April 18, unless the group is either terminated or extended beyond that date by another Executive Order.

“This is an important step to better define state and local jurisdiction regulatory structures as Colorado’s oil and gas industry continues to grow,” Hickenlooper said. “We want to protect public health, the environment and wildlife and to avoid duplication and conflict between different regulations of oil and gas activities. We expect these efforts to also help foster a climate that encourages responsible development and enhances existing cooperation and coordination between state and local government.”

The issues that the Task Force will address include:

• Setbacks of oil and gas facilities or roads necessary for oil and gas operations from any building, public road, above-ground utility line, railroad, or water body, or other restrictions on the location of an oil or gas well and its related production facilities.
• Floodplain restrictions.
• Protection of wildlife and livestock.
• Noise abatement.
• Operational methods employed by oil and gas activities.
• Air quality and dust management.
• Traffic management and impacts.
• Fees, financial assurance and inspection.

“In establishing this task force, we have worked with a variety of stakeholders, including local government, industry, the environmental community, Speaker McNulty, President Shaffer and Majority Leader Morse,” Hickenlooper said.

The Task Force will be chaired by Mike King, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The task force members will include: the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, or his or her designee; two members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as determined by said Commission; the President of the Board of Directors of Colorado Counties Inc., or his or her designee who must also be a member of said organization; the President of the Board of Directors of the Colorado Municipal League, or his or her designee who must also be a member of said organization; the Chief Executive of the Colorado Petroleum Association, or his or her designee; the Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, or his or her designee; the Executive Director of Colorado Conservation Voters, or his or her designee; one member appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; one member appointed by the President of the Senate; and the Colorado Attorney General or the Attorney General’s designee.

The full text of the Executive Order or can be found here.

From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):

The governor signed an executive order Wednesday to create an 11-member task force “to help clarify and better coordinate” the regulatory jurisdiction between the state and local governments over oil and gas operations. He asked the task force to report its recommendations and findings to him, the speaker of the state House and president of the state Senate by April 18.

The move follows heated debate at the capitol, where a Republican senator proposed empowering the state with sole regulatory authority over drilling. The proposal, HB 12-088, died in the Democrat-controlled Senate. A competing bill, introduced by a Democrat, would have assigned oil and gas regulatory power to local governments. It was killed in the GOP-controlled House.

“County land use regulations, ordinances and charter amendments empowered by the Colorado Constitution and upheld by the courts here and in New York, are the only means left for people to protect their communities from the excesses of an abusively powerful industry,” said Ceal Smith of the newly launched Coalition for a Clean Colorado.

“Two weeks ago, thousands of citizens spoke firmly against HB 12-088 and in favor of local regulatory authority over oil and gas activities. The governor’s executive order on fracking is a blatant attempt to circumvent the will of the people,” Smith said. “The communities most impacted have no voice or representation whatsoever on the governor’s hand-picked task force. We are frankly shocked by this autocratic assault on our democracy and community rights.”

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Tensions between the two levels of government have risen in recent months as the spectre of drilling rigs in urban and suburban areas — rigs probing for oil locked in Colorado’s Niobrara formation — has spurred local officials to draft new land use regulations focused on the industry.

State officials, including Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, have sent a series of letters warning counties and cities that their draft rules conflict with the state’s.

Bills that would give ultimate authority to either the state or local governments have been filed, and killed, during the legislative session, and representatives of local governments have hoped the governor would take the conflict outside the state Capitol by creating a task force to tackle the issues.

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Spurred by the discovery of oil in the Niobrara formation, which stretches from El Paso County to the Wyoming border, companies have been buying up mineral leases and ramping up drilling.

In 2011, Weld County had the most drilling activity in the West, according to a study by Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based natural resource consultant.
That led 10 Front Range municipalities and counties to develop drilling rules, raising concerns among drillers that projects could be stalled.

“This makes attracting investment a real challenge,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, which will have a spot on the task force…

“The composition of the task force seems weighted in favor of industry,” Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior policy adviser, said in a statement.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

In court, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, as well as the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, have challenged to ability of local governments and citizens to request hearings and exert local control over drilling operations, claiming that statewide rules are the best way to create a level playing field and the regulatory consistency that the industry wants.

In reality, circumstances can differ on the ground from community to community, said Pete Maysmith, director of Colorado Conservation Voters, which is named as one of the groups to be represented on the panel.
Maysmith said he’s glad that the environmental community will be represented on the task force. “As oil and gas drilling moves into heavily populated areas, we need to be able to protect the air, land water and communities,” Maysmith said. “Local communities need to have a say. They’re the ones being directly impacted.”

More coverage from John Fryar writing for the Longmont Times-Call. From the article:

Numerous cities, towns and counties looking into the possibility of enacting tighter local regulations about the location and operations of well drilling have run into legal questions about how far they can go without violating state laws and court decisions giving primary regulatory authority to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Hickenlooper said Wednesday that setting up the task force, which will be chaired by Department of Natural Resources director Mike King, “is an important step to better define state and local jurisdiction regulatory structures as Colorado’s oil and gas industry continues to grow.”

The governor, a onetime oil geologist, said in his announcement that “we want to protect public health, the environment and wildlife and to avoid duplication and conflict between different regulations of oil and gas activities. We expect these efforts to also help foster a climate that encourages responsible development and enhances existing cooperation and coordination between state and local government.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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