IT LOOKED UGLY A YEAR AGO AS PROTAGONISTS IN Colorado's messy dispute about oil-and-gas drilling girded for an election season of 15-second, finger-pointing sound bites. A handful of cities along Colorado's northern Front Range had already insisted on their right to control drilling in their jurisdictions, and a coalition led by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis proposed to revise the state constitution to further give local governments supremacy over regulation--a shift hotly disputed by oil and gas companies and state government.
At the eleventh hour, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a truce. Central to the cease-fire was his appointment of a diverse, 19-member task force. Since then, the shouting and anguish have subsided. Is that proof of the success of the task force's nine recommendations issued in February, or merely a consequence of reduced drilling activity in northern Colorado?
Two former governors, Roy Romer, a Democrat, and Bill Owens, a Republican, argue for success. The recommendations, says Romer in a press release, "will make one of the best regulatory systems in the country even better."
Also arguing for success is task force member Bernie Buescher. A former Democratic state legislator from Grand Junction and secretary of state from 2009 to 2011, Buescher says he believes the more thoughtful planning process identified by the task force can eliminate a "fairly high percentage" of conflicts.
Buescher, sitting in the hearings from Loveland to Durango, was impressed by the diversity of drilling in Colorado. The nature of drilling around Rifle, Durango and Greeley are very different, he says. "When people say that one size does not fit all, that really applies."
Already, several task force recommendations have been executed. Government oversight of the state's 50,000 active wells was a sore spot, and staffing by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was thin. In response, state legislators this year allocated $1.4 million to pay for 12 new employees. Another $361,000 was allocated to create a hot line and website for information and a forum for raising concerns about operations. And $403,000 has been allocated to create a mobile air-monitoring unit. Next winter, legislators will address the recommendation to conduct a health risk assessment.
Still unresolved is how exactly to give local jurisdictions a greater voice in oversight without relinquishing state authority. Drillers have feared that some local...