The challenger in the lone race for a Garfield County commissioner seat this fall, Michael Sullivan, says the commissioners missed an opportunity to give residents more of a voice in the process of allowing natural gas production facilities in centralized locations away from actual drilling sites.
But incumbent Commissioner Tom Jankovsky says he believes the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) affords that opportunity through its review of such facilities.
He said a recent land-use code change was an attempt to update the county’s definition of surface facilities that used to be on site, but are now more commonly consolidated and located away from approved well pads.
County commissioners last week approved a new definition for off-pad facilities, such as water pits, condensate storage tanks, drill cutting piles, pumping stations and well monitoring equipment, classifying them as a “by-right” use, so long as they are within a certain size limit.
“As we rely on the COGCC for down-well issues, we rely on them and their inspectors for their expertise on these types of off-site facilities as well,” Jankovsky said.
Most surface facilities located away from well pads previously required a county review and special permit.
Under the code revision, storage tank farms exceeding 5,000 barrels or handling facilities dealing with more than 100,000 cubic yards of borehole cuttings will still require an extra level of county review beyond what the COGCC requires.
Sullivan, the Democratic candidate who is seeking to unseat Republican Jankovsky in the Nov. 4 election, said the “by-right” definition may be fine for industrial zones and on resources lands.
But he believes some level of impact review should be required for any such facilities located in residential zone districts, regardless of size.
“The whole idea of centralizing these types of things makes sense,” said Sullivan, a Glenwood Springs resident who is an appointed alternate member on the Garfield County Planning Commission.
“It allows the industry to consolidate operations, which can have less overall impact,” he said.
But when those types of facilities are located in the vicinity of people’s homes, there should be at least a limited impact review conducted by the county, Sullivan said.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously in June to recommend approval of the centralized locations, but with a limited impact review for any location in a residential zone.
“It gives you a voice when it matters the most,” Sullivan wrote in a recent post on his Facebook campaign page.
“I realize there is a minimal cost, in both time and money, to prepare a review,” he added. “Reviews assure that your property rights have a voice in public, a basic liberty.”
The change in definitions for off-pad facilities is an extension of the broader county land-use code revisions that have been ongoing for the past two years, said Tamra Allen, planning manager for the Garfield County Community Development Department.
When it came to some of the language related to oil and gas facilities, industry representatives offered to help the county update the definitions to reflect some of the more-recent changes in technology, she said.
“One way they have increased efficiency is by pulling some of their facilities off pad and putting them in one location,” Allen said.
“Our concern as we looked at it was that, if they are able to consolidate, how big can a centralized location become, and what kinds of impacts can occur,” she said.
Industry representatives worked with the county to suggest the size thresholds of 5,000 barrels for storage tanks and 100,000 cubic yards for cutting piles.
“From my perspective, this was a good compromise,” said Jankovsky, who was joined by the other two commissioners, John Martin and Mike Samson, in formally adopting the code change at this week’s county commissioners meeting.
“My concern has been that if we continue to add more rules and regulations onto this industry, or any business for that matter, it just adds more cost and more time,” he said. “We already have in Colorado the most stringent oil and gas rules and regs in the U.S., including the new 500-foot setback.”
When it comes to local control, Jankovsky also noted that Garfield County only has two staff members dedicated to oil and gas concerns, and they aren’t inspectors. The COGCC has 15 people, including inspectors, in its Rifle office alone, he said.
“We already have in Colorado the most stringent oil and gas rules and regs in the U.S., including the new 500-foot setback.”
Garfield County commissioner