State says Garfield County wouldn’t win a battle against gas commission |

State says Garfield County wouldn’t win a battle against gas commission

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A local political activist has twice asked state regulators to tell her who would win if Garfield County and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission clash over approvals concerning oil and gas development within the county.

She has yet to receive an answer directly, although a state spokesman said that Garfield County would not easily prevail in such a contest, which attorneys describe as a “primacy” question.

“All these are decided on a case-by-case basis,” said Mike Saccone, communications director for Colorado Attorney General John Suther’s Office, which acts as legal advisor to the COGCC.

But, Saccone continued, if it comes down to a face-off over the COGCC’s approvals for gas drilling operations, “Basically, the oil and gas commission wins.”

The county has been trying to get the COGCC to move on two different fronts in recent months, relating to the controversy over drilling near the 1969 Rulison test blast site and complaints that there is a new seep of dangerous substances in the West Divide Creek area.

The COGCC, at its meeting Tuesday at the Hotel Colorado, listened to reports from the county, industry representatives and its own staff about what is known as the “Divide Creek Seep.”

The Divide Creek case goes back to 2004, when a seep of chemicals and gas erupted in the middle of Divide Creek. EnCana Oil and Gas, which was drilling in the area, was fined a record $371,200 and agreed to shut down its drilling operations in the neighborhood while it worked on “remediation” efforts to clean up the mess.

The county has asked the COGCC to consider reinstating the moratorium on drilling in the area until it can be determined whether there is a new seep or not.

The Rulison test site, located about 30 miles west of Glenwood Springs, has been radioactive for 40 years since the U.S. Department of Energy exploded an atomic device deep in the earth’s crust in an effort to free up oil and gas reserves more than 8,000 feet below the surface.

Currently, no drilling is permitted within a half-mile radius of the site, where the land is federally owned, and any drilling within three miles requires special review.

But as gas companies have moved closer to the site in their search for new gas deposits, Garfield County has been trying to get the DOE and the COGCC to decide where it is safe to drill, if anywhere, because of the residual radioactive isotopes left over from the explosion.

The Rulison question will be covered in today’s COGCC meeting, starting at 9 a.m., again at the Hotel Colorado.

Both issues have led area observers to wonder what would happen if the Garfield County commissioners came down in opposition to the COGCC on any given issue, and tried to use its local land-use controls to invalidate a COGCC decision.

Leslie Robinson first asked the COGCC staff at a July 8 meeting in Battlement Mesa – a community of some 5,000 living in unincorporated Garfield County near Parachute – where Antero Resources hopes to sink up to 200 wells from 10 pads.

She was told that was something the Colorado Attorney General’s Office would need to address, and the COGCC staff at the meeting declined to address the question.

She repeated her question to the COGCC again at a meeting in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday, and got essentially the same answer.

Robinson was asking about Rule 201 of the COGCC regulations, which states, “Nothing in these rules shall establish, alter, impair or negate the authority of local and county governments to regulate land use related to oil and gas operations, so long as such local regulation is not in operational conflict with [the legislation containing the new rules] or regulations promulgated thereunder.”

Robinson called the rule “a Catch-22” because it seems to give Garfield County authority when it really does not, and said that when she asked her question on Tuesday, “They basically said the same thing” as on July 8.

But a call to the Attorney General’s Office showed that, at least in the state’s eyes, the matter would be quickly resolved.

Saccone said that, as far as he knew after three months on the job, no one had ever asked the question directly, but after checking with the attorneys he indicated that the interpretation of the rules would fall in the COGCC’s favor.

And Dave Neslin, director of the COGCC staff, has said more than once that the question may need to be decided in the courts.

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