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Oil/gas working group reports to the county

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Members of the Oil and Gas Working Group (O&GWG) met with Delta County Board of Commissioners (BoCC) and the county planning commission at Heritage Hall in Hotchkiss to share with both commissions the results of the working group's meetings since early June 2018.

The county planning commission adopted the 2018 Delta County Master Plan in May 2018. A recommendation of the Master Plan was to form an oil and gas working group to help the county evaluate its current oil and gas regulations, which have not been substantively updated since they were adopted in the early 2000s.

The O&GWG was tasked with helping the county evaluate its existing regulations to ensure the county is exercising the appropriate spectrum of tools available to the county when regulating oil and gas development.

The approach of the O&GWG included:

1. Define and better understand areas where the county has legal jurisdiction over oil and gas activity.

2. Research science from universities, industry, conservation groups and other sources.

3. Research land use language and mitigation from other counties.

4. Evaluate the county's oil and gas regulations regarding research completed, and identify any gaps or opportunities missed, or in areas where the county's oil and gas regulations are out of alignment with the county's legal jurisdictions.

5. Develop policy recommendation to be considered by the BoCC for inclusion in the county land use regulations.

To establish common ground, the participants discussed topics they felt were important to address. These were organized and categorized and the following focus areas were identified: water quality, air quality, hazardous materiuals/emergency response, transportation, coordination with other agencies, exemptions and regulatory gaps, reasonable foreseeable development, general policy vs. regulatory (land use vs. Master Plan/policy distinctions).

Key takeaways from the educational discussions and discussions with other counties include a descriptive approach to county regulations, rather than prescriptive approaches, to help reduce conflicts between state and local control, thereby reducing the potential for preemption.

The focus of Delta County's local government designee to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on monitoring is unique. Equally unique is Garfield County's LGD's focus on information sharing and relationship building.

While COGCC is the primary regulator of oil and gas activity, CDPHE plays an equally important role in monitoring.

There are numerous conflicting studies about oil and gas development.

Significant data collection is occurring related to oil and gas development, but interpreting this data is challenging.

Throughout the working group process, it became increasingly clear that, while it is important for the county to have quality effective regulations in place, Delta County will be primarily a pass-through county impacted by oil and gas development occurring in Gunnison and Mesa counties.

The O&GWG identified numerous issues and ideas that need to be discussed with these neighboring counties. The O&GWG recommends that the county pursue more formalized agreements with Gunnison County in particular, but also with Mesa County, to address impacts to Delta County from development outside the county.

The O&GWG also recognized the importance of having a strong working relationship with COGCC. COGCC has expressed its availability to review Delta County's regulations as they are developed and to provide input on how to avoid, from COGCC's perspective, issues of preemption.

Tony Vervolet, Delta County's local government designee to the COGCC and staff to the O&GWG stated emphatically, "Keep the O&GWG together as a valued resource."

The county commissioners and county planning commission members agreed and members of the O&GWG expressed their willingness to continue as a resource to the county on oil and gas matters.

Members of the O&GWG are Wendell Koontz, Natasha Leger, Michael Cleary, Mark Waltermier, Mike Ludlow and Karen Ortiz.

Eric Sanford of Solar Energy International was a member for a few meetings but determined the focus of the O&GWG was not a good fit with his company focus, so he stepped back into a monitoring/public participation role. Ludlow took Sanford's place.

Early member Alex Johnson of Western Slope Conservation Center left WSCC near the end of the O&GWG process and Karen Ortiz stepped into Alex's place.

Elyse Casselberry, county community and economic development director, also served as staff to the O&GWG.

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