Garfield County commissioners put additional $500,000 toward efforts to sway oil and gas rules

Post Independent oil and gas graphic

Garfield County commissioners voted unanimously Monday to allocate an additional $500,000 toward efforts to shape new oil and gas regulations that were part of a bill passed by the Legislature in 2019.

Since 2019, Garfield County commissioners have put a total of $1.5 million from the county’s oil and gas mitigation fund toward addressing what they said are numerous concerns about rules passed in December by the Air Quality Control Commission adversely affecting the local economy and eroding local control.

“It’s not to fight the rules and regulations but to bring common sense to rules and regulations and to voice the citizenry as well as all local governments in the impacts and bring a more well-rounded conversation to the table,” Commission Chairman John Martin said at Monday’s meeting.

However, some Garfield County residents questioned why a fund for energy development impacts mitigation should be used in a manner that appears to benefit the industry.

“I’m offended for my neighbors in Garfield County that in fact county government would spend this amount of money with a Denver law firm to fight regulations that finally give them some sense of protection from intense oil and gas activity within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, parks and other occupied areas where people are doing their business and living,” Carbondale’s Allyn Harvey said.

During Monday’s initial public comment period, Parachute resident Bonnie Smeltzer told the commission that using county funds to fight against those rules goes against the wishes of many residents in the Battlement Mesa and Parachute area who are directly impacted from nearby gas wells through noxious odors and more.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to use money to fight for the gas well industry,” she said. “We the citizens of any community that’s affected by oil and gas don’t have a lot of money to fight against the oil and gas industry.

“We thought we finally had a win when SB-181 was passed,” Smeltzer added.

Garfield County will use the funds to help with legal challenges and more stemming from stricter oil and gas regulations passed under Senate Bill 181, which mandates annual emission reports and timelines for repairing leaks when they’re discovered.

Those are not the commission’s only concerns, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

“(The Air Quality Control Commission) did not follow the rules and regulations that they’re supposed to follow or the process and we are challenging that,” Jankovsky said. “So, it includes a whole array of things, not just the wells that potentially are shut down in more remote areas (due to increased operational costs).”

Commissioner Mike Samson noted that Garfield County’s efforts are not solitary — it’s joined by 23 other governmental bodies throughout Colorado that make up the Western and Rural Local Governments Coalition.

However, Garfield County is alone in funding the coalition so far. In answering a question from Harvey about how much other counties and municipalities are putting up financially, Martin explained that Garfield County is covering the cost on its own.

“Since we are the lead we go ahead and pay that particular bill,” he explained. “They have joined onto that particular support, however, again it is not monetary at this time.”

The effort could help ensure local government agencies continue to receive crucial tax revenues generated through energy development, Jankovsky said. Oil and gas development has been a cornerstone of Garfield County’s economy for roughly two decades and it could remain so for 100 more years with the amount of natural gas left in the Piceance Basin.

“The dollars we’re spending right now … They help the hospital district, they help the school district, they help the parks and rec district, they help the library district, they help Garfield County, they help (Colorado Mountain College), they help the water district. All those individuals get their funding from property taxes,” he said.

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