Colorado Compromises with Tisha Schuller – Aug 23, 2015

Today’s interview is with Tisha Schuller of Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative, and formerly of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Click below to listen or find us on iTunes or Stitcher.

Tisha grew up in Tucson, Arizona and studied earth systems at Stanford University.  She says she became “quite a hippie” at Stanford, even covering herself in fake blood to protest the Gulf War.  After school, she taught preschool for a year before working her way into an environmental consulting firm in Texas.  She spent 15 years with that firm, primarily working with the oil, gas, and mining industries.  She helped get pipelines and storage facilities permitted, and worked on remediation and cleanup of historic sites.

She wound up working in Colorado, and in her spare time serving on the board of an environmental group.  The group spent a lot of time suing oil and gas companies, but Tisha pushed the group to open a dialog with the industry.  One year, she pitched the Rocky Mountain Energy Summit on having a panel discussion considering the role of natural gas in the “new energy economy.”  The panel was successful, and that led to Tisha being approached by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association to fill their CEO role.

Tisha took over the association in 2008, and much of her early work was on promoting natural gas.  Production steadily shifted towards oil during her time, though.  She found that one of her main challenges was finding consensus between the association’s members, which ran from a six-person company to the multi-billion dollar major oil and gas producers.  It is important for the association to present a unified front where possible.  She also sought to collaborate with environmental groups, which seem to shift back and forth on their support of natural gas.

Over Tisha’s time at COGA, the association worked on several regulatory compromises.  She feels very strongly that solving climate change is an imperative for our society and that the oil and gas industry is going to be a key part of the solution.  She has pushed in the industry to embrace efforts to address climate change.  In particular, she believes that converting coal powerplants to natural gas will continue to drive down carbon emissions.  Additionally, oil and gas can dramatically improve the lives people in the developing world.  She urges industry to focus on reducing traditional pollutants if they are uncomfortable with a focus on carbon emissions.

In early 2014, Colorado passed new regulations to address methane leaks.  The regulations have been widely praised, and Tisha and COGA were very involved in the rule’s development.  COGA did not formally endorse the regulations, however, because the group’s diverse membership could not find consensus.  But many individual companies did partner with the Environmental Defense Fund and Colorado Governor’s Office to support the rules.  Tisha said the rules aimed to invest in the most cost-effective areas.  For example, the regulations require companies to install a leak detection and repair program.  Preliminary data on the regulation’s effectiveness will be coming out soon.

Local control became a huge point of contention in Colorado in recent years.  Tisha feels emphatically that the state government is the only place with the expertise to regulate oil and gas operations.  At one point, about 30 localities in Colorado were looking to ban fracking.  Tisha feels that those localities should have a way to participate in the process, and she thinks Colorado has put a good process in place.  Communities around drilling operations are demanding information and industry is doing a better job of providing it.  Most disputes, in Tisha’s view, simply come down to basic development disputes.  Homeowners have always complained about their neighbor’s dogs or a nearby strip mall, and local governments need to be involved to help mediate these kinds of disputes.

Tisha was very positive about the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force.  She thought it was extraordinary that people from industry and the environmental community would sit down together for two days a month for six months and try to find solutions.  She feels that all the easy questions have been answered at this point.  The problems remaining require balancing between a number of competing interests.  In particular, she felt that the task force made a good recommendation for a new rulemaking for multi-well pads.  These larger developments create more issues than most wells.  In addition, the industry has taken a number of voluntary steps in recent years that helped ease conflicts.

Today, Tisha is working at Stanford on a program that is researching a range of issues in the natural gas business.  She is working to transform the conversation to meeting worldwide energy needs while supporting research and development.