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The Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (WSCOGA) bore a strong presence at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Energy Task Force meeting last Wednesday, unveiling the “West Slope Way” approach to oil and gas development.
The Task Force held its Dec. 10 public meeting in Rifle, located in Garfield County, considered “ground zero” for oil and gas (O&G) exploration and production in western Colorado. The tone of the meeting was positive and leaned heavily to the support of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. More than 15 officials from the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) presented a powerful case for why more regulation is neither necessary nor good for Colorado’s westernmost counties.
Rooted in Experience
The West Slope Way, formulated by WSCOGA, is based not on theory but upon the working experiences of West Slope counties. Many communities in western Colorado are well-acquainted with exploration and extraction processes and have welcomed O&G operations, along with the millions in tax revenue they produce.
The West Slope Way counties have formed cooperative relationships with oil and gas interests in a quest to balance human and environmental concerns with economic realities. The West Slope Way (#WestSlopeWay on Twitter) is summarized in a white paper presented to the Task Force, that emphasizes “Anticipation, Communication, and Action.”
WSCOGA researched several West Slope governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to glean the best practices and forward-looking ideas from real-life interactions with O&G companies. Using historical best practices, as well as innovative ideas applied by organizations such as the Piceance Operators Task Force Committees and the Delta County Oil and Gas Collaborative, the Western Slope Way presents a time-tested formula for success without the onerous regulations that drive energy companies and jobs into places such as North Dakota and Wyoming.
Emphasizing communication and cooperation in addressing local needs the plan promotes the following actions:
- Creation of Energy Master Plans
- Ongoing updates to O&G regulations and local land-use codes
- Deliberately investing in relationships between local interests and industry
- Localized, company-specific community relations
- Localized forums, advisory boards, and task force committees
- Conflict resolution with the use of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs)
- Permanent and open public tours of O&G facilities
- Operating agreements between governments and companies
The Western Slope Way is a catchy new name for time-tested practices proven to be effective in smaller counties west of the Front Range. The name indicates that it may not be applicable to eastern or north-central counties because of differing practices and needs based on land issues, geology, and demographics.
Challenging Liberal Interests
A mixed crowd of about 400 attended the Task Force meeting, with pro-O&G attendees far outnumbering those in opposition. Colorado’s Energy Task Force was formed largely to diffuse radical initiatives coming from liberal Democratic interests, specifically backed by Congressman Jared Polis, and to appease (temporarily) the swelling wave of support for fracking in several counties.
Touted as bipartisan, the Task Force nonetheless is chaired by Gwen Lachelt, an environmentalist and former president of the Durango chapter of the National Organization for Women, an organization instrumental in promoting the anti-fracking “Oil and Gas Accountability Project”. Lachelt has been widely criticized for “stacking the deck” in a number of ways at Task Force meetings, including planting an activist associate in a panel to make public commentary.
Lachelt and others on the Task Force with anti-fracking leanings may find themselves frustrated in the coming months. The role of the Task Force is to advise the governor, state Legislature, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). However, suggestions for redundant or harmful new regulations will probably not get past the Republican-dominated State Senate.
The West Slope Way has a great deal of momentum from Western Slope counties, where there is broad public support for fracking, and O&G is seen as a means to growth in lagging local economies. Finally, the purportedly non-biased Energy Task Force will not be able to avoid the science on fracking. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the energy extraction method is safe and clean when implemented within the current regulatory framework.
Anti-fracking interests, sometimes called “fracktivists,” find themselves increasingly marginalized as old fear tactics have given way to observable examples of O&G best practices benefiting county budgets, landholders, employees, schools, and local economies in general.
Carrie Couey, a mom and rancher who lives in Garfield County and leases parcels to Encana Corp., asserted at the meeting, “Sometimes stories are told with too much emotion and very little truth. I challenge the naysayers to come take a tour of my ranch and see how agriculture and energy work together.” Hers is a textbook example of the West Slope Way.
Tags: Energy Task Force, Fractivists, Oil and Gas, regulations, West Slope Way
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