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Local leaders discuss oil and gas proposals

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

RIFLE — It was at the end of a 2 ½-hour meeting when Garfield County Commissioner John Martin turned to the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Matt Lepore, and delivered what could be considered a brief summary of the meeting. “You have a lot of work to do,” Martin said.

The meeting, hosted by Garfield County in Rifle Wednesday, was intended to gain feedback from local governments on the Western Slope on two recommendations being considered by COGCC.

Both recommendations are part of a larger series delivered by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force earlier this year, and deal specifically with local government involvement in the oil and gas regulatory process.

Wednesday’s stop was one in a series COGCC is participating in to gain feedback before beginning the formal rule-making process this fall. The commission already participated in three meetings on the Front Range before Wednesday, and many of the points made by Western Slope leaders resembled points made at those previous meetings, Lepore said.

Specifically, the Lepore mentioned recommendation No. 17, which calls for the establishment of a process for increasing the role of local governments when an operator proposes a “large-scale facility” in an urban mitigation area — which the COGCC defines as an area with 22 occupied buildings in a circle of 1,000 feet around a facility or if there’s a high-occupancy building, such as a hospital, in that same area.

While the regulatory agency has defined what constitutes an urban mitigation area, a “large-scale facility” has yet to be defined, and COGCC hopes to craft the definition based, in part, on some of the feedback gleaned from the meetings with local governments.

However, as many Western Slope leaders noted Wednesday, that is not necessarily an easy task. Some grappled with creating a clear-cut definition based on certain aspects, such as the number of wells or tanks, noting that both the scope of a proposed project and the location could factor into other ongoing issues including the impact on traffic.

Parachute Mayor Roy McClung mentioned that opinions on the size of a facility would likely vary depending on the stage of the development.

“When you’re drilling, that it is a large-scale facility,” McClung said in making a point that the impacts are almost always greater during the drilling and completion phase of oil and gas extraction operations.

Those comments and others were consistent with ones made at previous meetings, Lepore said after the meeting, adding that there likely won’t be a singular factor used to determine a large-scale facility, but one that considers different metrics.

Establishing that definition will be essential to the greater recommendation, which would require an operator to offer local governments to weigh in before the operator selects a facility location.

While many of the leaders said they had good relationships with some of the current operators, they also generally agreed that establishing communication early in the process could help prevent some issues between communities and the operators.

The second recommendation from the task force calls for operators to register with local governments and require operators, at the government’s request, to submit information regarding drilling plans for the next five years.

The intention behind the recommendation was to provide drilling information that could be factored into a municipalities comprehensive plan. While those who spoke generally agreed that having that information could be broadly useful, the volatility in the energy industry combined with the evolutionary nature of comprehensive planning would make it near impossible to create a single and binding plan.

It would be difficult for many operators to give a one-year plan, let alone a five-year plan, said Jeff Comstock, natural resource director in Moffat County. While Comstock questioned the practicality of the recommendation, he like others said it would not hurt to have the information, and suggesting creating a tool to gauge the operator’s confidence in the plans.

On both recommendations, Lepore said the challenge will be to create rules with general applicability.

The COGCC has six more outreach meetings before it puts forth drafts of the rules in late August or early September, at which point it the agency will seek further input, Lepore said.


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