What’s the rush in spending fine?
In Garfield County, $371,000 in free money could go a long way.It’s far from pocket change, and the decision on what to do with it isn’t one to take lightly. So it’s time to slow down the process set by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for determining how to spend the fine imposed on EnCana Oil and Gas for a natural gas seep south of Silt.The COGCC just imposed the fine in mid-August, yet hopes to decide the best use for the money at its meeting next Monday. That left only days for people to come up with spending proposals that could be considered by the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board, and then county commissioners, in time for the county’s recommendations to be forwarded to the state.The process also has suffered from the COGCC being vague, at least publicly, regarding what kinds of uses it has in mind for the money. That makes it all the more difficult to suggest appropriate projects.Not that the COGCC’s general intentions aren’t appreciated. It could simply have ordered EnCana to pay the money into the state’s general fund. Instead, it agreed to require that the money be spent on a local public project, presumably related to drilling impacts. But the state made it clear that the money isn’t intended to supplant money EnCana should be spending anyway for remediation related to the seep.Thirty-nine project submissions were submitted. County commissioners voted 2-1 this week to recommend three projects: researching the industry’s impacts on groundwater and public health, with any remaining money going toward educating citizens about the industry.Other finalists targeted such purposes as wastewater reuse, weed mitigation, well site restoration, and hazardous material response equipment and training.While these sound like worthy purposes, it can be argued that any project related to drilling impacts should be funded by the industry already, in the normal course of doing business.Before deciding what to do with the EnCana fine, the COGCC might have first asked for feedback on what kind of parameters proposals should meet to be funded by it. Ideally, if the COGCC made the industry deal with all its impacts on residents and the environment, it might then make sense for the money to go for something not directly related to drilling, but still a matter of urgency in Garfield County. Even a third of the fine money, for example, could provide a huge boost to the county’s struggling nonprofit human service agencies.It’s not too late for the state to slow things down in determining how to spend the fine proceeds. If it means that the money sits in the bank a few more months and gains some interest that also would go toward whatever public projects are funded, that’s a delay that few should mind.
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