Lachelt leads diverse group looking into well rules

Guv’s task force to test cooperation between environmentalists, drillers

Durango Herald | Peter Marcus

September 9, 2014
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La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt is readying to juggle multiple personalities after the governor announced the 19 members of a gas and oil task force.

Task force members

Chairwoman: Gwen Lachelt, La Plata County commissioner.
Chairman: Randy Cleveland, president of XTO Energy Inc.
Sara Barwinski, member of community group, Weld Air and Water.
Bernie Buescher, former Colorado Secretary of State.
Peter Dea, president & CEO, Cirque Resources LP.
Jim Fitzgerald, Bayfield-area rancher, educator, activist.
Russ George, former speaker of the house and former executive director of Department of Natural Resources.
Jon Goldin-Dubois, president, Western Resources Advocates.
Brad Holly, vice president of operations (Rocky Mountain Region), Anadarko.
Dan Kelly, vice president of Wattenberg Business Unit, Noble Energy.
Rebecca Kourlis, retired justice of the Colorado Supreme Court; executive director, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
Steve Moreno, clerk and recorder, Weld County.
Perry Pearce, manager of state government affairs (Rocky Mountain Region), ConocoPhillips.
Kent Peppler, president, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, farmer.
Pat Quinn, former mayor, Broomfield, Colorado.
Bruce Rau, vice chairman/treasurer, Colorado Association of Home Builders.
Jeff Robbins, Durango attorney, Goldman Robbins & Nicholson.
Matt Sura, attorney, Law Office of Matthew Sura.
Will Toor, former Boulder mayor and Boulder County Commissioner.
Elbra Wedgeworth, chief government & community relations officer, Denver Health.
Scot Woodall, president & CEO, Bill Barrett Corp.

Lachelt, a Democrat from Durango, is chairing the task force that will address land-use issues and the role of state and local government in addressing gas and oil activities, including hydraulic fracturing.

The task force was born out of a compromise between Gov. John Hickenlooper and fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, who agreed to stop financing two ballot proposals that would have given local governments more control over rules and regulations.

The process has been political and electrifying since the beginning. But Lachelt said Tuesday she believes there is a balance to the task force that will help facilitate conversations. Members, announced Monday night, include activists, industry representatives, civic leaders, ranchers, farmers, homebuilders, attorneys and health experts.

“The reason I committed to serving as co-chair was because citizens would be on an equal footing with industry. We haven’t had that kind of process here in Colorado before,” Lachelt said. “I feel like we have achieved that balance on this commission.”

Lachelt has worked on gas and oil accountability in Southwest Colorado for more than 25 years. She founded Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project in 1999 and served as director before becoming a county commissioner in the 2012 election.

Some worry that Lachelt’s background could tilt the task force toward activism rather than achieving a compromise that avoids a ballot drive and burdensome regulations.

In a news release, Hickenlooper’s Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, said the task force was “ready to carry out John Hickenlooper’s mission to dump more restrictions.”

“The creation of this panel will, unfortunately, accomplish little beyond enabling an extremist element that wants to stop oil and gas production in Colorado,” Beauprez said. “John Hickenlooper knows full well, or ought to, that this panel will only serve as a stepping stone to the imposition of further debilitating regulations on an industry that is not only already well regulated, but critical to the economy of our state.”

But Hickenlooper defended the balance of the commission at a media availability Tuesday.

“I don’t think anyone on this list has any ... misunderstanding that this is going to be easy,” Hickenlooper said. “But listening is often the best way to persuade people, and I trust that there is going to be a lot of listening going on with this commission.”

For his part, Polis is also hopeful for the outcome of the task force.

“I am pleased that this commission allows us to have a statewide conversation about the impact of fracking in Colorado and that it elevates the voices of the affected communities and homeowners, who have experienced the results of oil and gas operations near where we work, live and play,” Polis said.

Polis’ ballot proposals emerged after several Boulder County and Front Range communities imposed regulations, bans or moratoriums on fracking. The state and industry has since questioned the legality of those moves.

But there is industry hope that the task force can develop solutions to avoid costly ballot fights and ease uncertainties.

“After a divisive summer, I am hopeful this panel of diverse voices and interests will find, and promote, workable solutions that allow this industry that is so critical to the health and vitality of our state to continue to responsibly develop our natural resources,” said Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Environmentalists hope that the task force can find a way to empower local governments. But some from the environmental world – including those from Lachelt’s former organization – fear that the mission will stray from local control.

“Hardly a mandate to inspire, it represents the continuation of the state and fossil fuel industry collaboration that has brought us to the current state of political affairs,” Bruce Baizel said, Energy Program Director of Earthworks’ Durango-based Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “Given the limited mandate and commission make-up, it is difficult to see how this last, best attempt at reform of the ‘oil and gas trumps everything’ regulatory framework will change the larger political push that brought it into being.”

Tagged with: fracking, colorado, blue ribbon commission

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