DENVER (AP) – Faced with conflicting duties between state and local governments over the development of oil and gas resources, Gov. John Hickenlooper is asking industry and government officials to come up with recommendations on ways to resolve the conflict.
A task force formed by Hickenlooper met Friday to see whether members can come to some kind of agreement on how to work together. Local officials said they want more power to inspect well drilling in their communities, while state regulators said they want to keep their enforcement powers.
Longmont Councilman Brian Bagley said communities already have the right enforce local laws and to take their other concerns to state regulators, but there is no guarantee state regulators will respond. He said thousands of wells have been drilled along the Front Range over the past few years and state inspectors are overwhelmed.
“We want to know when we call 911 the police will come. We want the authority to do something,” he said.
Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said local inspectors need to be trained to recognize state and local violations so state regulators, who are the only ones entitled to write citations, can respond quicker.
Colorado revamped its statewide drilling rules in 2008, but as oil and gas operations move closer to urban areas, more counties and cities, including El Paso County and Commerce City, are exploring whether to adopt local regulations on issues such as noise and other effects of drilling. Colorado Springs has a drilling moratorium in place through May.
In February, El Paso County commissioners passed a resolution requiring drillers to perform a baseline water-quality test. After drilling is completed, they will be required to conduct follow-up tests between one and three years later.
Ultra Petroleum CEO Mike Watford has said depressed natural gas prices will limit the company’s activities in Wyoming and Pennsylvania, while healthy prices for oil make the oil-rich Niobrara shale in Colorado a stronger bet for the company.
In an executive order issued last month creating a task force, Hickenlooper said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is responsible for developing Colorado’s oil and gas resources, while local jurisdictions have a duty to provide planned and orderly development of the land within their boundaries.
The task force includes state regulators, oil and gas companies, city and county representatives, ecologists and politicians.
Sonia Skakich-Scrima joined protesters outside the meeting who said the state is trying to do an end-run around local communities that don’t have the power to enforce state laws, favoring the big oil and gas companies.
“It’s all about the money,” she said.
Colorado lawmakers say that a compromise needs to be found or the state risks having a hodge-podge of rules that will drive away energy developers.
“A patchwork of regulations from county to county, city to city, from town to town, will kill additional investment in Colorado,” Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty said in January.
The advisory committee that met Friday is planning to submit a report to the governor and lawmakers by April 18 unless it is terminated or extended by the governor.
By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer (© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)