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University of Colorado Denver

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Wirth Chair honors those who get it right


While the heated public debate over hydraulic fracturing is far from over, the Wirth Chair in Sustainable Development Monday honored several Coloradans who have worked to build understanding of the issues and collaborate in seeking common ground.

Wirth Chair Mark Safty said the theme of the 15th annual Wirth Chair Awards luncheon was “Getting it right,” and the recipients of the awards had done just that.

“Building public trust is very, very hard work,” said former U.S. Sen. Timothy Wirth, who gave the keynote address at the event. He cited leaders at three oil and gas companies – Noble Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Encana Corp. – for representing “three of the most responsible energy companies” and working hard with government leaders and environmental organizations to develop meaningful regulations for safe oil and gas development.

The awards honored representatives of government, industry and the environmental sector for their work over the past year to develop air quality rules giving Colorado the toughest restrictions in the country on methane emissions from oil and gas development. The rules became effective in May.

“I’m here today because Gov. John Hickenlooper challenged the energy community and NGO’s to come up with workable solutions” to the problems created by intense oil and gas development in the state, said Ted Brown, senior vice president for Noble Energy, who accepted the award on behalf of industry groups.

Brown spoke of the challenge of protecting the environment as well as the 30,000 jobs directly related to oil and gas development in the state. The ultimate agreement among the groups “turned out beyond my expectations. Science and technology drove the outcome.”

He also said the process for developing the air quality rules was “a much better way (to resolve differences) than through a constitutional amendment,” and called for attendees to “stand with the governor to find a solution” to the dispute between the oil and gas industry and groups who advocate for local control of drilling operations.

Dan Grossman, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the air quality rules are “the model for the nation.

“Gov.  Hickenlooper set a very high standard. He said Colorado should be the leader in the nation on regulating oil and gas … to achieve zero methane emissions,” he said.

“But let’s not make the mistake of thinking we’re done. This is really a starting point,” said Grossman, who represented the environmental community in accepting the award.

Jeff Ackermann, director of the Colorado Energy Office, praised both sides in the negotiations for their “collaborative thinking” throughout the arduous process of developing the air quality rules.

The award for all three groups will be displayed in the governor’s office.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was honored for her legislative action in 2008 that created the Colorado Youth Advisory Council. The organization, which operates under the guidance of Engaged Public, helps teenagers to mobilize around issues that are important to them, including sustainable energy, climate change and environmental protection.

“The young people of today are concerned about what the future holds,” said Roberts. “Each year it’s a different group of kids and I’m very proud of them.”

Cathy Proctor, a reporter and editor at the Denver Business Journal who has covered energy issues for more than a decade, thanked her bosses at the DBJ for hiring her when her qualifications on the topic were that “I drive a car, I turn on the lights and I just installed a natural gas stove, so I have all bases covered.”

Associate Professors Tanya Heikkila and Chris Weible presented the finding of their recent research for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on the politics surrounding the fracking issue.

“The majority in Colorado has moderate views,” said Heikkila. “It’s not as polarized here as it is in New York.” Click here to see their data.
 

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