Garfield County approves new oil and gas permitting process for facilities
Garfield County could put its newly obtained local control provisions over the siting of oil and gas facilities to use in the next couple of months.
Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gas liaison, said at least two applications are pending before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for well pads in western Garfield County that would require what’s called an Alternative Location Analysis to drill within 2,000 feet of an occupied building, or seek a variance from other newly adopted state regulations.
That’s exactly the situation where a new set of local rules approved unanimously by county commissioners on Tuesday afternoon is intended to come into play.
The amendments to the county’s land-use code were made in accordance with new state rules regarding the location of facilities, such as well pads, that used to fall directly to the COGCC.
Last year, the COGCC adopted new rules as part of the implementation of Senate Bill 181, which became law in 2019 and overhauled the way oil and gas development is regulated in Colorado.
The new law changed the COGCC’s mission to prioritize public health, safety and welfare and redefined its role from one of fostering oil and gas development to regulating the industry.
A key provision that came out of that process was a required 2,000-foot setback for drill sites from homes, schools and other occupied structures.
However, operators can request an Alternative Location Analysis to drill within that limit. Operators can also seek a variance from noise or light standards or ask for other permit modifications.
To help with that analysis, the new state regulations provided for greater local control by counties and city governments to have a voice in that review.
Garfield County has been working with industry and land-use experts to come up with a required process to do that.
A change to the county Land Use Development Code defines such modifications to the COGCC regulations as requiring a limited impact review on the county level.
Similar to other land uses that require such a review, the process begins with a pre-application meeting with county staff, followed by a required neighborhood meeting in certain cases, including:
- When the proposed working pad surface is within 2,000 feet of one or more residential units or high-occupancy buildings
- When the proposed pad is less than 2,000 feet from a school or child care center
- When the proposed pad is within 1,500 feet of a “designated outside activity area,” such as a park or public recreation area
Property owners and tenants of rented properties would both be notified for the neighborhood meeting, and for the public hearing before the Board of County Commissioners once a formal application is submitted.
Following a public hearing, county commissioners could recommend approval of a location if the board determines that a well location that doesn’t meet the state’s baseline standards can be mitigated to protect public health, safety and welfare, as well as the environment and wildlife. Similar recommendations could be made to the COGCC regarding light and noise variances.
Final decisions still rest with the COGCC.
Leslie Robinson, representing the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, was the only member of the public to speak on the new process.
She reiterated a point made to the county Planning Commission last month that reciprocal setback for houses and other buildings to be built near abandoned oil and gas facilities, such as wells and backflow lines, be greater than 25 feet.
“We have had similar problems here where development came way too close to those abandoned facilities,” she said, referencing the deadly 2017 home explosion in Firestone that was traced to gas leaking through an old backflow line from an abandoned well site.
Robinson suggested a distance of more than 300 feet be included in the new local rules, but the county is sticking with the current state standard.
The new local permitting process also applies to oil and gas facilities on federal lands, through a memorandum of understanding with the state that was also part of the rulemaking process last year.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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