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Oil, Gas Officials Seek To Change Tone Of Fracking Debate

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The tenor of the oil and gas conversation this week began changing as speakers at the Colorado Oil and Gas Industry's annual Rocky Mountain Energy Summit repeated new refrains.

Cooperation.

Humility.

Honest, caring, open communication.

Call it the softer side of oil and gas. Gone may be the image of the big, bad oil producers, muscling their way to dig up the resources below. They no longer want to be on the defensive.

Simply, the us-versus-them idea has to go.

"The next 20 years will truly change the world," Jerre Stead, CEO of IHS, a global consulting firm, told a packed house at the Colorado Convention Center last week during the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's annual conference.

"Now, the opportunity comes along once in a lifetime, maybe, to make an impact on the world. ... One of the ways we can help each other most is to be very proactive. Stop being defensive. Together, if we're going to create truly long-term national energy policy, we need to be positive and consistent and speak as a single voice," Stead said.

The theme seemed to override every discussion at the convention last week.

Speakers included Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist from the Nature Conservancy, calling for the oil and gas and conservation industries to work together, as neither side will go away anytime soon; and Alex Trembath, policy analyst with The Breakthrough Institute, a California think tank, calling for a new eco-modernism that rethinks traditional environmentalist ideology and rejects the idea that man is ruining nature.

As industry officials and employees sat and listened, more than a few raised their eyebrows at what they heard on the stage before them, as speakers ushered in the era of cooperation -- even harmony -- with conservationists, meeting fractivists in the middle, and finding common ground.

"The emphasis at the conference was to change the nature of the dialogue, away from an us-vs-them framework to one where we acknowledge that we are all in this together," COGA president and CEO Tisha Schuller said in an email response to questions. "We all use energy and the products of energy. We all want to protect our family, our community and our Colorado natural environment. Polarization becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where we expect conflict and so further exacerbate the situation. Meeting in the middle is complex, time consuming, trying, and messy. But ultimately, it is the only way to get anything worthwhile accomplished."

While the industry has grown in the last couple of years, and helped Colorado pull out of the Great Recession, residents have become increasingly skeptical as they organize through social networking, some organizing fracking bans in cities, or calling for moratoriums to study the health effects.

Residents have expressed concern about the types of chemicals used in fracking fluids, formulas for which an increasingly competitive industry has been reticent to reveal, lest lose an advantage; residents worry about those chemicals seeping into ground water; they show videos of fugitive emissions pouring from tank batteries, polluting the air. They've called for action, and want sound, scientific proof the industry does not harm the environment or people as the industry encroaches more on urban neighborhoods and schools.

While the industry has attempted to answer the myriad questions surrounding their activities that have been ongoing in Weld County for 40 years without dangerous health effects, they've faced increasing skepticism and stricter regulations.

Most recently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission placed tighter setback rules for locating drilling activities near buildings. The state Air Quality Control Commission is looking into stricter requirements on emissions from oil and gas facilities and operations.

Stead, speaking about how the industry will be looked at in history, espoused the open and honest approach to dealing with detractors.

His method to communication was three-pronged: treat absolutely everyone with dignity and respect; facts are friends; and create a strong educational base for the future.

"We have an opportunity to make a much bigger difference to look back 15 years from now and say we changed the world," Stead said. "If we bring resources together in this room and spend a fair amount of time, treasure and talent creating an education system that helps people understand what we truly are doing, what the facts are, what an incredible difference we can make to the world. We have that opportunity."

As an example, he said, officials need to tackle emissions head-on.

"Be proactive of measuring, controlling and reducing emissions," Stead said. "That's an example of where we can deliver facts as friends. It will be a great example of activity making a difference on greenhouse gas emissions."

If we don't solve some of the domestic issues, such as the residents' concerns, the country may lose out, he said. Natural gas prices in India are triple what they are in the United States, because of the increased natural gas production, which is expected to make America a net exporter by 2020.

World energy consumption, he said, is expected to increase 52 percent from 2010 to 2040, 60 percent of which will come from Asia.

Stead offered reaching for the opportunities will be difficult for an industry constantly on the defense. ___

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