RFTA board deadlocked over gas-drilling policy | AspenTimes.com

RFTA board deadlocked over gas-drilling policy

CARBONDALE – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority isn’t anywhere close to the philosophy of “drill, baby, drill” when it comes to natural-gas extraction. But the bus agency’s board of directors is divided over what exactly to say in an environmental policy statement about gas production.

At a meeting Thursday, half the board, four members, wanted to make what RFTA board chair and Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley called “an aspirational policy.” The other half felt the board will set itself up for failure by making a statement on what it expects in the exploration and extraction of natural gas.

So they did what government bodies often do – they directed their staff to try to draft compromise language that incorporates both points of view. The staff proposal will go back before the board next month.

RFTA is wading into the issue because it is likely to start running a portion of its fleet on compressed natural gas next year.

The proposed policy statement that divided the RFTA board said, in full, “RFTA expects the gas and oil industry to adhere to industry best practices when exploring for, extracting, and delivering the energy resources upon which RFTA relies and, to the best of its ability, RFTA will attempt to do business with only those that do. Additionally, RFTA does not support exploration or drilling for natural resources in environmentally sensitive areas.”

The intent, explained Dan Blankenship, the bus agency’s CEO, is to create a policy that can be presented to natural-gas vendors and provide the basis for questions about their practices. It sets a standard, he said, and asks vendors to live up to them.

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RFTA board member and Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson said the proposal goes way beyond the bus agency’s purview and expertise. RFTA will find itself in a difficult position it if is trying to determine if natural gas is coming from environmentally sensitive areas, he said.

“It’s not our place to be making some of those judgments,” he said. “I’d be very careful about walking down this path.”

He wanted to adopt a policy urging gas companies to explore and extract using the industry’s best practices. RFTA board members Ted Edmonds, of Glenwood Springs, Sara Fisher, of Eagle County, and Frank Breslin, of New Castle, agreed with the simplified policy statement.

Owsley lobbied to adopt a statement that expresses concern for drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. Pitkin County doesn’t want drilling in areas where air quality, water quality and wildlife habitat can be adversely affected.

“We’re very concerned about these issues,” Owsley said. “They have to be met, or we’re letting down our citizens.”

RFTA board member and Carbondale trustee John Hoffmann also supported a policy that presses vendors on environmental sensitivity. The oil and gas industry isn’t going to change for RFTA, he said, but setting the policy “is going to make the industry think – a tiny bit. It’s a start.”

Owsley said it’s good for RFTA to think big.

“For me, it’s an aspirational statement more than anything else,” he said.

Owsley and Hoffmann were joined in support of the statement by RFTA board members Jacque Whitsitt, of Basalt, and Steve Skadron, of Aspen.

No action was taken on the policy because of the deadlock, but the debate will continue.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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