County officials, citizen groups address state O&G Task Force
RIFLE — Natural gas-producing counties in western Colorado have mechanisms in place to work with the industry and citizens to deal with the impacts, and may not benefit from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to new state regulations, West Slope county officials advised the governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force here Wednesday.
Garfield County, for one, is leading the way to make sure oil and gas development is done in a way that addresses public health and safety concerns while recognizing the rights of producers, said Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin.
“Over the last 15 years we have seen a massive influx of oil and gas activity, and throughout this period there have been many challenges. But we have developed a robust, collaborative process,” Martin said in testifying before the 21-member panel that was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper last summer to explore additional regulations over the industry.
The task force was proposed as a way to stave off several ballot measures that were in the works aimed at increasing well setback provisions and increasing the ability of counties and municipalities to impose local controls on drilling.
Among Garfield County’s efforts have been the hiring of a full-time oil and gas liaison, formation of the county’s Energy Advisory Board, and participation in various air and water quality monitoring programs and health impact studies, Martin said.
“Balanced development is possible, and is the standard we continue to uphold in our county,” he said. “There are solutions without more regulations and rule-making.”
Officials from six Western Slope counties testified before the panel to open the two-day task force meeting being held at the Farm Fresh Cafe meeting hall in Rifle.
It’s one of several public sessions being held by the task force around the state as it works to make recommendations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on potential new regulations around well setbacks and local control issues early next year.
“We could be adversely impacted by additional statewide regulations, if those regulations are not well thought-out,” said Bruce Bertram, Delta County’s “local government designee” who works as a liaison between the county commissioners, energy producers and the public.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Shawn Bolton agreed.
“It’s not productive to have multiple layers of regulation for the same thing,” he said. “We do adopt [rules] in areas that we feel are not covered, and that is critical for our county.”
But drilling on the eastern plains is different from what’s occurring on the Western Slope, Bolton said. “One-size-fits-all does not work.”
Routt County Commissioner Timothy Corrigan took exception to the assertion that more local control is not needed, and said it has worked in his county.
“I am a believer that the best government is that government that is closest to the people, and I would like to see some local control,” Corrigan said. “I believe we can have orderly oil and gas development, but there are special needs that should be recognized.”
The morning session also included testimony from area citizen group representatives and mineral lease holders.
Members of Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance called on the task force to require community development plans for companies that want to drill within established residential communities, such as the 4,500-resident Battlement Mesa community.
That should include more stringent setback between well pads and houses and public buildings that the current state requirement of 500 feet, said Battlement Mesa resident Doug Saxton.
“Residential drilling is a threat to the very character of my community,” Saxton said in joining other members of the citizens group who called for a 1,500-foot setback in residential areas.
Silt-area rancher and mineral rights owner Carrie Couey said more regulations would hurt the county’s and the state’s economy.
“These oil and gas professionals are proud of what they do, and these people deserve respect,” Couey said. “Instead, we punish them with more regulation.”
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