Our View: The devil is in the details
March 6, 2012
It's appropriate that Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration is getting involved in the jurisdictional issues between local and state governments when it comes to regulating oil and gas development, but we fear Hickenlooper's recently announced task force is nothing more than a political maneuver favoring the energy industry.
Routt County is among the dozens of Colorado counties wading through the complexity of oil and gas regulations at the state level while simultaneously struggling to decipher how much control they can exert at the local level. Some local governments have enacted moratoriums on new oil and gas drilling operations; Routt County's Board of Commissioners voted, 2-1, against a similar step last year. And some, like Gunnison County, have taken the issue of local control to the courts to decide.
It's against this backdrop that Hickenlooper announced last week the formation of a task force to "help clarify and better coordinate the regulatory jurisdiction between the state and local governments over oil and gas operations." Taken at face value, it appears to be a wise and prudent move by the governor. As oil plays on the Niobrara Shale formation increase throughout Colorado, communities like ours find themselves struggling with how best to protect their environment and natural resources while also reaping the potential economic benefits of energy exploration.
We're optimistic that both can be accomplished, and we think local governments must be given a powerful voice when it comes to the activities that take place on land within their boundaries. But we also understand that a county-by-county patchwork of laws governing energy exploration poses its own problems.
Hickenlooper's task force is supposed to "identify and strive to reach agreement on mechanisms to work collaboratively and coordinate state and local jurisdiction regulatory structures for the purpose of benefiting Colorado's economy and public health, the environment and wildlife, and to avoid duplication and conflict of state and local jurisdiction regulations of oil and gas activities and to help foster a climate that encourages responsible development." Issues the task force is supposed to address include setbacks of oil and gas operations; floodplain restrictions; noise abatement; operational methods; air quality; and traffic management, among others.
But what appears to be missing from the task force is equal representation. The task force will include one representative from both the Colorado Petroleum Association and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and two representatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a state agency already considered by many to strongly favor the industry it's supposed to oversee. Colorado Conservation Voters, an environmental group, gets one spot on the task force. All other task force seats are for government organizations, officials and representatives.
It's disappointing that Hickenlooper appears to have whiffed on a great opportunity to help counties like Routt wade through a regulatory environment that lacks clarity, and do so in a way that doesn't jeopardize local governments' ability to protect their resources while still encouraging responsible energy exploration.