2,000-foot oil & gas setback proposal prompts letter to governor from Garfield County commissioners, while supporters rejoice | PostIndependent.com
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2,000-foot oil & gas setback proposal prompts letter to governor from Garfield County commissioners, while supporters rejoice

In this June 2016 photo, a drilling rig stands in Battlement Mesa. Currently there are no rigs operating in Battlement.
Post Independent file

A proposal before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a 2,000-foot oil and gas setback is being met with cheers from impacted residents and jeers from West Slope industry advocates and gas-producing counties.

“The proposal, with specific provisions around distance and siting, is a giant step forward in the effort to protect residents from the negative impacts of oil and gas development,” the Western Colorado Alliance, representing the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Battlement Concerned Citizens, said in a statement after the COGCC presentation Friday.

“This is the intent and mandate of Senate Bill 181, which charged the COGCC with the new mission to protect the health and safety of Coloradans first in oil and gas permitting decisions.”

The “soft” setback proposal was presented to the COGCC on Friday as part of the ongoing rule-making process to implement SB 181. That legislation changed the COGCC’s mission from that of fostering oil and gas development to regulating it and laid the groundwork for new rules to be written.

If approved by the Commission — potentially as soon as the end of this month — the 2,000-foot setback concerning the distance wells and facilities can be developed in relation to homes, schools and other occupied buildings would apply statewide.

Garfield County commissioners were none too pleased with the proposal. On Monday, they fired off a letter to Gov. Jared Polis, saying it is counter to voters’ intentions when Proposition 112 was defeated two years ago, and to the governor’s own promise to “end the oil and gas wars” with the passage of SB 181 last year.

“You made it clear that you wished to see Senate Bill 181 fully and responsibly implemented before supporting any additional changes to the state’s regulatory landscape,” the county’s letter states.

“This 2,000-foot setback proposal … was never mentioned as part of the legislative intent, nor in comments made by yourself, nor any COGCC staff,” the letter continues.

The commissioners’ letter goes on to state that “our industry takes particular pride in our proactive work to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife.

“We are proud to operate in a state which already employs some of the most robust and protective rules and regulations anywhere in the nation, and we are committed to playing a collaborative role in the rulemakings …”

Read the full letter:

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky also testified before the COGCC last Thursday, as part of the Western and Rural Local Government Coalition, that the setback proposal would effectively kill the oil and gas industry in Garfield County and across the state.

It also flies in the face of voters’ rejection of the 2,500-foot setback proposal contained in Prop 112, and any other “arbitrary” setback distance, he said.

Of the 11,000 gas wells now in Garfield County, Jankovsky said 7,000 of them wouldn’t have been drilled with a 2,000-foot setback in place.

The coalition of gas-producing counties and towns has indicated a 500-foot setback would be acceptable, but no more.

“This is about people not being able to get a job, not being able to put food on the table, and not having a place to live,” Jankovsky said during the Monday county commissioners meeting.

“This governor, and now the COGCC, if this goes through, will have destroyed an industry in our county.”

Added Commissioner Mike Samson, “We are under attack here, and [with the letter] we are hoping to be able to work … to make sure more harm isn’t done to our county.”

Samson’s challenger in the Nov. 3 election, Leslie Robinson, said the proposed setback distance is what the group she chairs, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, and Battlement Concerned Citizens have been wanting for more than 10 years.

“This debate goes back to when companies only had to have a 150-foot setback, because that was the height of the rigs and what was necessary to make sure that if they fell they wouldn’t fall down on any buildings,” Robinson said.

“So, because they could drill that close to homes, they did,” she said. Even at 1,000 feet, there are ongoing complaints in Battlement Mesa about noise, odors, dust and traffic, she said.

“The health studies that have been coming out recommend the 2,000-foot setback. It’s not arbitrary by any means,” Robinson said. “You have industry experts saying that 500 feet is enough, but they’re not living next to these gas pads. The residents in Battlement Mesa are.”

Outside of the populated areas, the 2,000-foot setback would not prohibit energy development, she added, “and the 11,000 wells that are already in production will not be affected.”

The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which represents oil and gas operators in the region, also commented on the setback proposal during a Monday video conference with reporters.

The majority of the COGCC staff’s proposed rules have been “diligently drafted by staff who have decades of experience and technical expertise,” said WSCOGA Executive Director Chelsie Miera.

“As an industry, we’ve said from the beginning that oil and natural gas companies here in Colorado need clarity and certainty,” she said. “Unfortunately, neither of those have been achieved in this rulemaking thus far.”

Miera said the process has become politicized and guided by emotions, instead of the collaborative process to craft new oil and gas rules based on “data, science and facts” that was promised with the passage of SB 181.

“It’s clear that the commissioners are capitulating to Boulder and Denver, and lumping the West Slope in as an afterthought,” she said.

Instead of a negotiated process to come up with acceptable rules and regulations, Miera said the issues may now need to be settled in the courts.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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