Local Colorado Officials Show Strong Support for Existing Oil & Gas Regulations
Ever since the Colorado oil and gas task force was created last year, a clear majority of local officials have told the panel they support the state’s existing framework of regulations governing land use and energy production. The prevailing view was reinforced once again during a discussion about the task force at the Colorado Counties, Inc. annual Winter Conference.
Task force members Gwen Lachelt and Steve Moreno – themselves county commissioners from La Plata and Weld counties respectively – participated in the question-and-answer session. A summary of the discussion, which was included in the docket of public comments for the task force, showed the majority of local officials who participated are satisfied with their level of involvement in regulating oil and gas development.
For instance, Baca County Commissioner Peter Dawson, listed as speaking on behalf of the Baca County Commissioners, stated in-part:
“We are worried about the assumption that there is a need for more regulation.”
Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe described the process of developing the county’s Memorandum of Understanding as well as her belief that the success of the model could be used by others:
“The County spent two years developing a land use process for this industry in the county. We didn’t want to duplicate what the state is already doing and even received a letter from the state Attorney General’s office about limits of local governments’ powers. The county developed an MOU to work with the industry. The MOU verifies that the county had enough local control over the industry. The MOU passed with a 3-2 vote on the BOCC. Believe the MOU is a model and encourage others to take a look at it to see how to make things work.”
Speaking on behalf of the Rio Blanco County Commission, Jon Hill expressed his support for the current authority of local governments while providing the Task Force members with examples of how local governments can impact oil and gas development:
“The County feels like there is good local control through existing county land use authority. We permit the well sites, compressors, and temporary housing along with industry hours of operation. We put county road frost restrictions in place during the spring and are currently rewriting the land use regulations, adjusting them to be more efficient for industry by reducing the number of permits if the driller already applied to the BLM or the state. We were going to do groundwater testing until the state developed more stringent regulations. When our new land use regulations are approved companies who drill in compact residential areas will need to go through a limited public review. Rural residential areas may still be permitted by administrative review.”
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, representing a county that has seen significant oil and gas development stated:
“The oil and gas industry has been in Colorado a long time and we still have a beautiful state with clean air and clean water. Industry is able to coexist with other activities such as hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation. Garfield is the largest natural gas producer with 10,800 wells in the county. One well had an incident where gas got into the aquifer and the company spent $300K in fines and more than $1M in mitigation. Over the years, this one out of all the wells to have a major impact on the water. Garfield County and the industry have put in air monitoring and air quality has steadily improved since 2008. Not concerned about fracking because we have the strictest rules in nation and the energy companies have to follow these regulations. About local control, Gunnison County has the most stringent rules in Colorado, Delta uses MOUs similar to Front Range counties, Garfield County relies on the state inspectors for downhole regulation, but the county still inspects water holdings and compressors. Local control already exists. We need to continue to look at the better technology developed over the last years that allows for remote fracking, recycling water and directional drilling that reduces surface impacts. Garfield County is very concerned about the property rights, such as, mineral, wind, grazing and so on. There are probably 100 yrs. of gas reserves in the county.”
Custer County Commissioner Kit Shy offered support of the current regulations but also a word of caution on potential unintended consequences of expanding regulations:
“There are no wells in Custer County, but when speaking about local control, inspecting and monitoring the process is good. We are concerned when others mention zoning as a part of the solution. This could create a long list of what you can use the land for, and short list what you can’t. The mineral rights holders do not determine the use of the land, the minerals do, and all we can do with regulations is to ensure safe extraction of those minerals. There is a history of extraction of minerals in this county that has a totally different impact from prior extractions, zoning the oil and gas wells creates similar impacts, such as crowding wells in one area.”
These remarks come in the wake of a resolution approved by a “significant majority” of Colorado’s county commissioners stating that local governments have “sufficient authority to regulate, and collaborate with, the state’s oil and gas industry.” Adopted by a voice vote of those attending the CCI meeting, the resolution states “a vast majority of Colorado counties have already proven their ability to successfully regulate and negotiate in good faith with the industry to strike a balance between private, state and local interests.”
The resolution goes on to describe current regulatory tools available to local governments such as the Memorandum of Understanding agreements and the Local Government Designee program. Also mentioned are dedicated staff members from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission whose job it is to work with local governments by “addressing local concerns by incorporating them into regulations and permit conditions.”
Even before the task force was formed, the Colorado Municipal League also weighed in. MCL general counsel Geoff Wilson told the Denver Post:
“The idea that there is this seething cauldron of conflict between the industry and local governments, I just don’t buy it. Yes, you can find examples where things aren’t working out, and to me that’s just the noise of local government in operation. …
“I think we’re doing better than we ever have. You know, things were really awful in the early 1990s. The oil and gas companies weren’t very sophisticated in how they dealt with the local communities that were hosting their activity. And we in local government weren’t very knowledgeable about this industry. And both of those things have changed in the years since.”
These testimonials from local government officials completely undermine the attempts of anti-energy activists to portray local governments as powerless in making decisions on oil and gas development in our state. Activists who remain committed to these talking points in their attempts to lobby the task force are simply ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Colorado’s local governments support the current regulatory environment.