Jan 31, 2012 10:36 PM by Matt Stafford

El Paso County passes version of oil and gas regs

On the eve of a four-month moratorium ending on oil and gas operations, on Tuesday El Paso County Commissioners passed regulations to handle the industry moving forward; even with state officials expressing "grave concern." The regulations were a much smaller version than was originally proposed by the planning commission.

County Commissioners ended up picking one of several plans they were considering, but took out everything except for sections dealing with transportation, emergency response plans, noxious weeds, and some water testing issues. All of the other items in the plan were removed and placed with an inter-governmental agency that the board formed; to continue raising the issues with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) - Colorado's regulating agency for the industry.

The motion passed 3-2, with Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Darryl Glenn voting against; Commissioner Littleton said she wanted the county board to avoid possible lawsuits for overstepping its boundaries.

"The original motion included more restrictions, particularly in regard to protecting our water, but ultimately this was the one that we thought we could actually defend should we be challenged in court," says El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who voted for the motion.

A letter from the Attorney General's office to the county commissioners this month pointed out that the state had preeminent control in handling regulations for the oil and gas industry, which they delegate to the COGCC. Their members are appointed by the Governor.

COGCC's director spoke at Tuesday's board meeting for El Paso County's commissioners. David Neslin urged the board to enter into a "memorandum of understanding" with his commission. They would appoint a local government designee to address local concerns, but final say rests with Neslin's commission.

"Oil and gas development occurs in dozens of counties, and dozens of towns and cities across the state; if each county or town or city adopted its own different regulatory requirements, the concern is we would end up with a patchwork quilt of requirements that don't serve the public and that needlessly obstruct the responsible development of our energy," Neslin told News 5.

"We think that raises problems in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, so we urge local governments to work with us collaboratively," adds Neslin.

Several people spoke out on both sides of the issue; some want the industry growing in El Paso County as soon as possible for the jobs and the money it could bring, but others had serious environmental concerns.

Tuesday's county commissioner board meeting lasted well into the evening; they started talking about the oil and gas issue just after 10 a.m., and stayed on the topic until they reached a decision at nearly 6 p.m. They considered several options, but kept coming to sticking points on what areas they could regulate and which ones were already being handled by the state.

Commissioner Hisey and county staff say companies have already expressed interest in applying for permits to operate locally, so they wanted to have things in place to handle the moratorium ending February 1st.

"We're set; we're ready," says Commissioner Hisey.



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