Garfield County, Colorado governments talk oil, gas permitting changes
Senate bill passed in 2019 paves way for flexible regulation
New Castle’s New Hope Church hosted a different congregation Wednesday as oil and gas producers and government officials coalesced to discuss the state of Colorado’s newest energy regulations.
During the Energy and Environment Symposium, representatives from Weld County, Aurora, Garfield County and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) took to the pulpit, highlighting changes in local energy permitting processes following the approval of a 2019 senate bill, 19-181, by the Colorado Legislature.
The symposium was co-hosted by Colorado Mesa University and Garfield County.
As the panel’s moderator, COGCC Director Julie Murphy, introduced Garfield County Community Development Director Sheryl Bower, Weld County Oil and Gas Department Director Jason Maxey and Aurora Oil and Gas Division Manager Jeffrey Moore.
The group was selected to represent different approaches to regulating oil and gas permitting post-SB 19-181, which was intended to change how the oil and gas industry is regulated, with more authority given to local control.
The landmark legislation also shifted the COGCC’s focus from fostering oil and gas development in the state to regulation and environmental protection.
Bower said Garfield County has taken a relatively hands off approach, only addressing oil and gas permits when the applicant requests a waiver from COGCC’s standards.
In Weld County — one of the state’s highest energy producers — a new department was created with six full-time staff to closely work with regulators and producers, Maxey said.
Aurora responded to the senate bill by creating an oil and gas division, Moore explained. Although the city does not accommodate energy production on the same level as either Garfield or Weld counties, it is home to about 100 oil and gas wells with plans to quadruple that number in the next seven years, he said.
“We know local, state or even the U.S. government can’t stop oil and gas development,” Moore said. “So we don’t try to stop it. Instead, we’re focused on creating boundaries.”
All three representatives said they work with other governments throughout the permitting process, though who they work with is largely dependent on the location of the applicant.
“Each oil and gas permit we get is unique,” Maxey said.
In some instances, he said Weld County works with local communities if a new well’s hauling route could impact the residents.
Bower said Garfield County has agreements with every community regarding oil and gas permits, and if a neighboring county could be affected, she said the county would reach out to that county’s officials during the permit process.
Local governments were given leeway by the senate bill to become involved in the permitting process before, during or after the COGCC gets involved.
Weld and Garfield counties both created their regulations around the idea they would be involved concurrently, whereas Aurora chose to be first to the table.
“The beginning of the process is the best time to address potential roadblocks,” Moore said. “But we’ve also invited COGCC to our pre-application meetings, which has turned out really well so far.”
Because Garfield County enters the process only if a waiver is requested, Bower said it made the most sense for the county to opt for a concurrent process. She reinforced Moore’s praise of COGCC’s involvement since the senate bill was passed and said she hopes the commission keeps up its efforts in the years to come.
During the questions portion of the panel, an audience member asked how each of the panelists were dealing with the well pad set back being pushed from 500 feet to 2,000 feet from homes and schools.
All three responded they have not received a permit that addresses the setback, but Maxey added the hard set back remains at 500 feet. Developments will need to go through extra permitting steps to build beyond 500 feet within the 2,000 setback zone, but the new regulations do provide operators an avenue for pursuing those permits, he explained.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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