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It's time for renewed bravery from Delta County

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Dear Editor:

Once upon a time Delta County was the champion of local control, local government authority and the community's right to clean air, water and protection of public health and safety. In fact, it was the first county in Colorado to challenge the authority of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to exert exclusive jurisdiction over the permitting of oil and gas wells. In 2002, Delta County challenged the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission head-on by joining a lawsuit to defend its right to deny Gunnison Energy permits to drill in the watershed.

Here's a little history:

• May 15, 2002, the BOCC issued a nine-month moratorium on processing any new applications to the county for oil and gas operations to give it time to draft oil and gas regulations for the county. The moratorium was later extended.

• In July 2002, the county responded to the company's new comprehensive hydrologic survey for baseline water information in the project area by funding a separate and independent hydrologic survey conducted through the Colorado School of Mines. The findings of the county's independent study differed significantly from the company-funded study.

• July 23, 2002, after conducting a series of public hearings, the BOCC denied four of the well permits and approved one. The meeting had to be held outside on the courthouse lawn to accommodate the attending crowd. The county commissioners voted 2-1 to deny permits for four exploratory coal-bed methane gas wells and apply stringent conditions on a fifth. Commissioner Jim Ventrello cast the dissenting vote because he wanted to deny all five permits.

• In August 2002, the newly formed Grand Mesa Citizens Alliance (GMCA), a local citizens group, sued the COGCC to stop the drilling of the five wells. The BOCC joined in the GMCA lawsuit. Gunnison Energy filed a counter claim against the BOCC.

• In March 2003 the District Court ruled against the BOCC.

Ever since Delta County lost its lawsuit, it has been operating under a cloud of regulatory fear. Although there hasn't been much drilling in Delta County, that fear has not served the county well. The oil and gas reform bill, SB-181, which passed the Senate and is making its way through the House of Representatives will lift that cloud of fear and allow local governments to do just what Delta County originally pioneered ... saying no to oil and gas permit applications that threaten the community. Therefore I was disappointed to see that Delta County signed on to the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado letter opposing SB-181. Delta County has the opportunity to be brave again and make its citizens proud. There is no reason for Delta County, or any rural community for that matter, to be the victim of exploitation, when the path to a clean and renewable energy future is so clear.

Natasha Léger
Citizens for Healthy Community

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