Garfield County commissioners state case on gas regulation |

Garfield County commissioners state case on gas regulation

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Although some residents of Battlement Mesa want to see new local laws saying what the oil and gas industry can do in this area, it does not appear that Garfield County is eager to accommodate them.

In the wake of more than two hours of discussion on Tuesday, at least two of Garfield County’s three county commissioners indicated they were not interested in imposing more regulations on the industry.

Commissioner John Martin said, “My approach is, less rules and regulations,” which he said should go along with “oversight” by state and local government, “self reporting” by industry officials concerning compliance with existing regulations, and communication from citizens of any problems arising from industry activities.

Incoming commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who will be sworn in next month to replace outgoing commissioner Tresi Houpt, was in the audience for Tuesday’s meeting and said he agreed with Martin’s statements.

He noted that he received more votes than incumbent commissioner Tresi Houpt from the three precincts in Battlement Mesa, a result that he said “surprised me.”

That margin, he said, is “to some extent” a mandate for his basic campaign message, which was “to create jobs by not over-regulating.”

Commissioner Mike Samson, who, like Martin, has two years left on his term, said he had not made up his mind on the question. But he told a packed meeting room on Tuesday, if the Board of County Commissioners decides against their request, “Please do not feel that this board has abandoned you.”

At the meeting – in a room filled with Battlement Mesa residents as well as industry officials, attorneys and others – more than two hours of presentations, pleas and protests were offered to the commissioners.

Most of the information presented was aimed at convincing the board to employ what are known as “1041 powers” to increase the county’s role in regulating oil and gas activities.

The Battlement Concerned Citizens organization, arguing for adoption of the relevant 1041 powers, bolstered its position with a PowerPoint presentation by attorney G. Moss Driscoll of Carbondale, who currently is out of the country.

Enacted by the state Legislature in 1974, as House Bill 1041, the law was a response to rapid growth, and authorized counties and municipalities to regulate certain activities defined as an “area of state interest.”

The law, in part, covers the “site selection and development of new communities.”

The argument presented by Battlement Mesa residents at the Tuesday meeting was that the county could use 1041 powers to exert greater control over plans by Antero Resources to drill up to 200 natural gas wells inside the boundaries of Battlement Mesa.

The residents fear that having drill rigs in their midst would have multiple and undesirable impacts on everything from water and air quality to the loss of property values and more.

Antero has responded that it is working with state and local regulators to avoid any such harmful impacts.

Driscoll argued, in part, that Battlement Mesa fits under the statute’s definition of a “new community” because only half of its roughly 3,200 acres is developed, and that future “development” of residential, commercial and industrial components should be seen as part of what the law is meant to cover.

At Tuesday’s meeting, industry spokesman Dave Ludlam of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association argued that such a use of 1041 powers would constitute an “end run” around the state’s industry overseers, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and “would be a legally questionable maneuver.”

County attorney Don DeFord and his staff also have concluded that it would be a stretch to apply 1041 powers to the Battlement Mesa situation.

DeFord’s reasoning, Driscoll’s arguments, Ludlam’s memo to the commissioners, and other documents supporting the different sides of the issue all were part of Tuesday’s discussion.

The commissioners made no decision on Tuesday, and gave no indication when a decision might be forthcoming.

But in DeFord’s packet for the commissioners, at least one of the memos, written last June by former deputy county attorney Deborah Quinn, advised the commissioners to make their decision at a formally noticed public hearing.

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