Robinson column: County should embrace oil and gas regulation protections

Leslie Robinson
Guest column

It is challenging to be a citizen activist leading the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which is a grassroots group in western Garfield County involved with mitigating impacts from residential oil and gas development in neighborhoods like Battlement Mesa. As commissioners Mike Samson, John Martin and Tom Jankovsky are curious idolizers of the oil and gas industry, they have made it more difficult for us to help citizens defend their homes from industrial development because of the pro oil and gas stances the commissioners have taken and promoted.

Historically, all projects proposed for drilling in and around Battlement Mesa were given the “A-OK” from the commissioners, often against the wishes of many Battlement residents who had to endure the noise, lighting and noxious smells that came with the multiple well pads located hundreds of feet from their doorstep.

Most drilling activity in Garfield County is “use by right,” meaning that the oil and gas industry does not have to go through rigorous planning and zoning and commissioner oversight. Fortunately, Battlement Mesa is a “Planned Unit Development,” which forced the county to hold public hearings and negotiate “Conditions of Approval” before Ursa Operating Co. LLC was allowed to drill and frack over 50 wells in Phase I within Battlement Mesa neighborhoods.

It was a grave concern for many Battlement concerned citizens, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and other local residents that Samson, Martin and Jankovsky approved an injection well and a 24-well pad near the community’s water treatment facilities and its primary water source, the Colorado River for Phase II. This preposterous decision is one of the reasons I’m running for county commissioner against Mike Samson.

Described as a mix of diesel and penetrating petroleum chemical smells, odor has been the number one complaint during Phase I and the development of multiple well pads around Battlement Mesa. Since the county invested much time and effort on measuring air pollution, why did the commissioners take a 180-degree turn to file and fund a lawsuit against the state’s Air Quality Commission’s new protective regulations that would better safeguard communities like Battlement Mesa? What is most deceiving is that, at the same time, they profess to care about preserving air quality from quarry activities in Glenwood Springs.

As a county commissioner candidate, I have been poring over county expenses of the past five years. It is shocking the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent from the commissioners’ “Oil and Gas Mitigation Fund” to lawyers and lobbyists whose purpose is to fight against new state air quality regulations and the proposed oil and gas rules under SB-181 that further protect citizens living with residential drilling.

As commissioner, I would drop the lawsuit against the Air Quality Control Commission and work with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to preserve quality of life in oil and gas impacted communities such as Battlement Mesa.

The fiscal well-being of the natural gas industry, which is a world-wide market commodity like oil, is hardly influenced by a single state’s clean air and water rules. Since natural gas is plentiful and demand weak across the U.S. and international markets, it is no longer economically viable for companies to drill here. For county commissioners to prioritize weakening protective state air quality regulations for the feigned purpose of boosting the local natural gas industry is a mistruth and certainly not the best use of your taxpayer dollars.

To be sure, the economic reality of declining severance and property taxes from gas production will hit hard upon the county, local municipalities and special districts. That income has been declining for several years, however, and is no surprise. We’ve been here before when the oil shale industry went bust in 1982 and again during the 2009 Recession. Until world markets rebound, natural gas production will continue to drop in Garfield County. More than ever, Garfield County should invest in diversifying our local economies instead of trying to prop up a declining international industry.

That is what your 2020 commissioner election will be about. I believe Garfield County citizens want to move forward — not step back — to further protect our quality of life, our clean air and water, and expand our economic horizons.

Leslie Robinson is a 40-year Rifle resident, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a volunteer position, and candidate for County Commissioner against incumbent Mike Samson.

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