Following a Sept. 3 public hearing, the Delta County Board of County Commissioners directed staff to prepare a resolution to repeal all county regulations and language related to oil and gas surface activity from its land use regulations.
The county would instead rely on a yet-to-be-adopted interim process while the State of Colorado and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) re-write their oil and gas regulations following passage in April of Senate Bill 181 (SB 181). The bill, in part, waives state preemption of local land use regulation in favor of more protective regulations required under state law and delegates powers to local governments to regulate land use and surface impacts.
The county was working with the Delta County Planning Commission and county-appointed oil and gas working group on new regulations last spring when SB 181 was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis. Passage changes the mission of the COGCC from one of regulating oil and gas to facilitating oil and gas, explained county community and economics director Elyse Casselberry. It changes the composition of the COGCC board and state agencies to allow for stronger representation of the public.
On July 24, the nine-member Delta County Planning Commission voted, 7-2, to recommend a repeal.
Commissioners are set to vote on the resolution at the Sept. 17 meeting. If adopted, the resolution will remove Appendix I and all references to oil and gas from its Specific Development Regulations regarding land use. The county will also become the first governmental entity in the state to do away entirely with its regulations following passage of SB 181, which grants local governments authority to go below the state floor in writing regulations.
The county proposes that in place of the regulations, all oil and gas activity within the county be regulated under state law. Those regulations are expected to be written and implemented within two years, although some estimate it will take longer.
“Colorado is the most regulated state for oil and gas,” said commissioner Mike Lane in explaining his support for repealing the regulations.
The county states that the move is intended to avoid lawsuits like the one filed against it last spring, and later withdrawn, by Citizens for a Healthy Community. The Paonia-based grassroots organization was founded to address irresponsible oil and gas development in the North Fork area and Delta County and represents some 600 members.
About 20 citizens attended the hearing, most of them from the North Fork area, representatives and members of CHC. The organization and its members have petitioned commissioners to consider placing a moratorium on all oil and gas activity for a period of about four months to allow the county to rewrite and implement its current regulations, a move the commission does not support.
“I’m not hearing any desire from this board to enter into any kind of moratorium,” said chair Don Suppes during commissioner comments.
The interim process, said Casselberry, would require the county to inform the public of new applications and request an extended state public comment period; take public input and submit it to the state; requests a review by the state under “Objective criteria,” which triggers a higher level of scrutiny; and facilitate the public comment process, including holding public hearings, providing training on how best to submit comments, and so liciting and submit comments to the COGCC.
The interim plan does not include rewriting or replacing of regulations or retaining local control, as CHC points out in a recent memo to the county. Repealing the regulations, they say, would make oil and gas the only industry unregulated by the county, giving it an edge over other industries, including coal, and opening it up to lawsuits.
Natasha Leger with CHC said she is “dumbfounded” at why the commission would relinquish local authority in favor of an interim process, which fails to address issues not covered by state regulations, among them irrigation water, geological hazards, seismic activity, emergency response, and protection of county roads..
The working group, she pointed out, came up with 33 consensus points, including no spills, traffic accidents or degradation of water and air quality or water quantity. A repeal of county regulations for two years or more “does nothing to advance those recommendations,” she said. While SB 181 prioritizes the health, safety and welfare of the public, environment and wildlife and elevates public participation, “It’s not a substitute for local control.”
“There’s a reason 181 carved out local authority,” said Leger. She referred to oil and gas working group’s first point of consensus, “Not to trash our home.” Those words, she said, came during a public meeting from working group member and petroleum engineer Tony Vervloet, a 30-year veteran of the industry.
“I believe he said that because he’s aware of what damage can be done,” said Leger.
“I think everyone in the room has agreed that our current regulations don’t cut the mustard,” said Commissioner Mark Roeber, who represents District 3 and the North Fork Valley. “My opinion: at some point we have to repeal in order to move forward.” Whether that happens now or when new state regulations are written, “doesn’t really make any difference… I think, at least in my mind, it demonstrates that we are trying to move forward.”