With the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority expecting its first four buses powered by compressed natural gas in January — and with gas drilling on the horizon in the Thompson Divide area outside Carbondale — the transit agency’s board of directors Thursday approved a new policy for obtaining the fuel.
The board hopes the statement will help the agency clear the air of perceived hypocrisy, especially in light of Houston-based SG Interests last month filing two applications to drill in Thompson Divide. A staff memo to the board notes the “environmental sensitivity of natural gas extraction.”
To avoid the taint of hypocrisy, New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin said RFTA should make a statement that it will only get compressed natural gas (CNG) from suppliers that use industry best practices. The agency should examine gas firms’ safety records, how much water used in the fracking extraction process is recycled and other criteria, he said.
“Did anyone ask how clean the check was” from Encana? Breslin asked, referring to a $365,000 grant the energy firm gave to RFTA in February for the CNG program.
There are many factors in the procurement process that “look like hypocrisy,” he said.
The policy statement approved by the board, which is comprised of elected officials from Aspen to New Castle, doesn’t go into detail about safety records and the other items Breslin mentioned.
“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 relied and, to the best of its ability, RFTA will attempt to do business with only those that do,” reads the policy, which was approved unanimously. “When evaluating bids or proposals from gas suppliers RFTA will consider both price and the policies and practices that suppliers have in place or are willing to put in place to mitigate the negative environmental and community impacts of resource extraction, development, production and transportation.”
While price will remain the main focus when RFTA looks to procure a long-term natural gas supply contract, Chief Operating Officer Todd Horsley said that in addition to the new policy the agency will likely employ a bonus system when it looks at bids from gas suppliers.
Companies submitting price proposals will fill out a questionnaire “with several criteria we would like them to meet,” he told the board.
The more RFTA’s vision is met, the more points a firm would receive.
That may not mean the cheapest possible price, and RFTA still has to suss out how much more money it would be willing to pay to a firm that scores more bonus points but has higher prices, Horsley said.
“We just have to find that sweet spot,” he said.
Mona Newton, executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, told the board that, with the policy, RFTA can provide regional leadership and potentially change practices within the energy-extraction industry.
“There are firms that want to be rewarded for going beyond industry standards,” she said.
Her organization and the Wilderness Workshop were among the groups helping a RFTA subcommittee draft the policy language.
RFTA’s board in March approved a $16.5 million expenditure to buy 22 buses that run on compressed natural gas, an alternative fuel that agency staff believe will cut costs roughly in half compared to diesel.
RFTA is building a CNG fueling station at its maintenance facility in Glenwood Springs ahead of the delivery of the four buses, which will be used initially to train drivers and mechanics.
The subcommittee suggested to the board that the policy include mention of the location of resource extraction. Will Roush of Wilderness Workshop said location is important because it gives RFTA more options in selecting a supplier. The agency may want to weigh how close resource extraction is to a school, homes or a municipal water supply, he said.
But Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot said the questionnaire can cover those issues. She also said, in a response to Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson’s suggestion for RFTA to tackle a similar policy for its diesel and unleaded gas use, that the agency first focus only on CNG. RFTA can return to the other fuel sources once the efficacy of the CNG policy is gauged, she said.
“We need to start somewhere,” Bernot said.