Energy, Environment, Michael Sandoval

Oil and Gas Task Force A Stage for Activism

By the end of the week, Colorado will find out if Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force can deliver reasonably measured proposals for one of the most critical and controversial issues facing the state of Colorado, or the smoke-and-mirrors accomplishment of political kabuki theater.

Either way, one of the players on that stage, attorney Matt Sura, has surely captured his share of key roles.

Sura is no stranger to the battle over fracking. In March 2014, Sura helped draft regulations for the City of Brighton that were overturned by the Brighton City Council just one month later, once Sura’s past experience came to light. In the aftermath of the reversal, Sura defended his previous work, denying that he was a “fracktivist.”

In 2013, Sura represented Weld Air and Water pro bono, in their attempt to add a moratorium in Weld County, according to the National Journal.

At the January 13, 2015 meeting of the Town of Erie board of trustees, two residents, seen here at the 27:00 minute and 43:00 minute mark, relate conversations and citations of information provided by Sura as a member of the oil and gas task force before the board voted on a possible moratorium.

That moratorium was tabled, 4-3, on January 27. In voting against a moratorium, the town moved towards resolving lingering issues directly with the companies, avoiding potential lawsuits.

icon_op_edIn a January 20 editorial, the Daily Camera frowned upon contact between Erie trustees and the oil companies. The editorial board did not, however, mention the apparent communications conducted by a sitting member of the state oil and gas task force and members of the community who actively supported the proposed moratorium that was cited at the very same meeting.

In describing his legal work, Sura explained his “bias” as “activist first” when it comes to hydraulic fracturing research, in this 2013 video from the University of Colorado’s Center of the American West. Sura characterized some of his previous work, including that with the Western Colorado Congress, as that of a “community organizer.”

Sura responded to questions from Complete Colorado about his work, including his efforts in Erie:

I am not working with the City of Erie.

I have always tried to respond to every request to speak to impacted communities who have questions about oil and gas law or policy. I have not stopped speaking to communities, nor have I been asked to stop, since being nominated to serve on the Governor’s Task Force.

I have been serving as a volunteer on the Governor’s Task Force. Others, who work for the oil and gas industry, are being paid by the oil and gas industry for their time on the Task Force.

Sura did not respond to a question about possible clients outside of the Town of Erie.

In an email forwarded to Complete Colorado, Sura writes to “fellow task force members” with the self-congratulatory “importance of our work”:

I found this video illuminating so I thought I would send it along before our next meeting.

A public hearing occurred in Erie Colorado last week that, for me, has reinforced the importance of our work. On Tuesday, the Erie Board of Trustees considered a resolution to impose a one-year moratorium on oil and gas development. The moratorium was proposed because some Trustees have become dissatisfied with the Town’s inability to negotiate a sufficiently protective MOU with the oil and gas industry.

Erie negotiated one of the first MOUs in the state – signed in 2012. In 2013, the MOU was put to the test when Encana proposed 13 wells on two wells pads approximately 700 feet of the Vista Ridge neighborhood in Erie. The first well was drilled over this past Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, Encana was not able to adequately control the noise and the drilling disturbed residents’ sleep for three weeks over the holidays. After that experience, the Erie Trustees vowed to negotiate a more protective MOU. They have been frustrated in those negotiations and decided to consider a one-year moratorium.

You can watch the hearing online.

As usual, Director Lepore does an outstanding job. He encourages Erie Trustees to continue their efforts to negotiate a stronger MOU rather than imposing a moratorium.

I suggest starting the video at the beginning of Director Lepore’s presentation – at 2:00 hours. He speaks for about ten minutes.

After Director Lepore, the Trustees discuss the resolution for about an hour. The debate among the Trustees was also instructive. The Trustees all speak forcefully and with no small amount of frustration. Ultimately, the resolution to support the moratorium failed 3-4.

The hearing highlights the need for reform. The status quo does not appear to be working for the public, industry, local governments or the administration. We have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to suggest a better way for Colorado.

I look forward to our meeting on Monday and Tuesday.

Was Sura merely an interested observer, or one of Colorado’s Pied Pipers of anti-fracking, citing his own work in Erie and elsewhere as a justification for the task force’s existence?

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