February 27, 2015
Position Paper: 2015-1
Re: Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force Recommendations
As a Colorado non-profit with a focus on sustainable development that assures the prosperity, health and well-being of global mountain and Arctic communities, the Arctic and Mountain Regions Development Institute (AMRDI henceforth) takes special notice of the recommendations put forth this week by the Colorado Task Force regarding State and Local Regulation of Oil and Gas Operations, or Oil and Gas Task Force (Task Force henceforth).
Though the Task Force has been seen as principally addressing a Front Range phenomenon of oil and gas activity, with a special focus on hydraulic fracturing techniques (fracking henceforth) in or near residential neighborhoods, AMRDI sees the recommendations as a bellwether of future statewide regulatory practice and best practices, with significant implications for valley and West Slope oil and gas activities, with significant implications for rural economies and household well-being.
These activities, we recognize, have significant economic implications for communities and the state and thus their outright ban is impractical initially, but they have also had a measurable environmental and health impact for proximate residents. Denying so is disingenuous, and AMRDI continues to recommend investments and policy that broadens and diversifies rural economic opportunities in order to break the dependence on natural resource extraction.
AMRDI nevertheless applauds both the mission and hard work of the Task Force’s 19 members and 2 Chairs in putting forth recommendations that were widely agreed upon between diverse stakeholders with varying interests. AMRDI also applauds Governor Hickenlooper in creating the Task Force, with the goal of constructively seeking a pathway to compromise, and in so doing giving voice to stakeholders that are not as economically or politically empowered to challenge the oil and gas industry with legitimate concerns. We do nevertheless recognize the contentious nature of the Task Force’s background, given its origins as an effort to avoid a statewide referendum proposing fracking’s ban on the November 2014 ballot.
Recommendations that received support from two-thirds of members on the Oil and Gas Task Force (or recommendations 17, 20, 25, 31b, 41, 37, 49 and 52b) have been summarized as:
1. Establish a process for increased collaboration between oil and gas operators and local governments when it comes to multi-well drill sites, and provide mediation if the collaborative process does not produce and agreement about where to put large-scale drilling operations.
2. Include future oil and gas drilling and production facilities in the local comprehensive planning process. Operators would have to reveal future drilling sites and related facilities.
3. Enhance local government designee roles and functions as liaisons between industry, residents and local officials.
4. Increase COGCC staff, including inspectors, enforcement and permitting staff.
5. Increase staffing at Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, increase capacity for health risk assessments, and create a health complaint hotline.
6. Create and oil and gas information clearinghouse.
7. Convene a working group to find ways to reduce truck traffic on public streets, roads and highways for oil and gas activities.
8. Continue rules around methane emissions that the state enacted on a temporary basis last year.
9. Implement a compliance assistance program for the industry.
AMRDI Positions and Response
§ AMRDI strongly supports the inclusion of recommendations 1-4, as listed above, with a special emphasis on 1 and 3, and welcomes both the increased level of community oversight and the opportunity for increased collaborative dispute resolution, or so we envision it, in the event of conflicts. As we have derived form both international and domestic experience, increased community-industry collaboration is essential to finding cost-effective but critical adjustments to the scope and nature of industrial development in populated regions.
§ AMRDI laments the absence of more stringent regulation. Specifically, the failure to have passed and put forth recommendation 44, or “The Full and Public Disclosure of the Chemicals and Concentrations Used in Oil and Gas Operations” is a glaring oversight. This recommendation, which had been one of Governor Hickenlooper’s own early in his administration, remains a barrier to public confidence in oil and gas activities and a source of public distress, as well as a public safety hazard in the event of spills or water contamination. In light of over 170 oil and gas related spills throughout the state in 2013, this sensible move toward transparency is fundamental, and its oversight will diminish the significance of the Task Force’s work.
§ AMRDI also laments the lack of more comprehensive health and monitoring recommendations. Two were originally put to the Task Force for approval, and only one was approved by the Task Force (31b, or #5 as listed above). Given, as cited above, increased levels of ground-level ozone and sustained EPA non-compliance in air quality in Colorado’s Front Range, AMRDI recommends systematic monitoring of known harmful chemicals, including Benzene.
§ AMRDI also recommends site-specific monitoring for leaks, funded by locally-derived fees as necessary, and a transparent regulatory process of fine levying, escalating to prosecution for leaks, unrepaired leaks or sustained and excessive leaks. Self-regulation has proven ineffective in resolving this problem.
§ AMRDI recommends increased research on the effects of oil and gas activity on human health in proximate neighborhoods and residents. The causal linkages are not clear, and greater information would benefit both the oil and gas industry and general public.
§ Goals 7-9, as listed above, are not unimportant, but lack initiative and are otherwise poorly defined. Goal 9 could in fact be critical, and prove a pivotal way to increase public oversight of non-compliant operations. We nevertheless recommend that goals 7-9 be more explicitly drawn before implementation.
§ Goals 7-9 require measurable targets, a defined, lead actor/coordinator, funding source, and more precise time line for implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
AMRDI argues that the Task Force represents a novel and compelling arrangement with broad stakeholder inclusion. The discourse surrounding oil and gas development can be monopolized by extreme opinions on both sides of the question, which heightens emotions, but results in little in the way of constructive agreements across stakeholder interests. The Task Force is an explicit attempt to find an inclusive approach to oil and gas development governance in Colorado, which we applaud.
At the same time, oil and gas comes with significant risks that are unavoidable, and government should not continue to defer authority and oversight to industry itself, a troubling trend and backward slide apparent in the Hickenlooper administration as its initial and moderate attempts at oversight were repelled.
Where appropriate, government, including the current administration and legislature, which will now consider the nine recommendations, must assert its regulatory authority where human and environmental health is at risk, as it is here.
Finally, AMRDI again asserts its belief that Colorado’s prosperity will hinge more on economic diversification than a continued reliance on carbon assets and other natural resources prone to price instability and short time horizons.