Colorado county commissioners say they have enough local control over oil and gas
- Cathy Proctor
- Reporter- Denver Business Journal
That's according to John "Chip" Taylor, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), a Denver-based nonprofit representing county officials.
The Dec. 2 vote at CCI's meeting was by voice, and while there was opposition to the resolution, a "significant majority" of commissioners approved the resolution, Taylor said.
The resolution was submitted for a vote by commissioners from 21 of Colorado's 64 counties, including the Front Range counties of Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso, and Weld.
The resolution "is a general expression about the fact that we do try to work with industry, we do have some authority, and that the current legal framework gives county governments authority to enter into memorandums of understanding and manage oil and gas development in unincorporated areas," Taylor said Tuesday.
How much local control city and county officials have over oil and gas operations within their jurisdictions has been a flash point in Colorado politics during the last few years, as rising oil prices have fueled a boom in oil production — mostly from new wells drilled into the Denver-Julesburg Basin, an area that sprawls north and east of Denver into Nebraska and Wyoming.
As more drilling rigs have started operations nearer to urban and suburban communities, complaints over noise, dust, traffic, and other issues have risen.
Boulder County commissioners in November extended the county's existing moratorium on accepting or processing permits associated with oil and gas operations to July 2018.
A 21-member task force, appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in August, is looking at the issue of local control and the oil and gas industry.
The task force was formed as part of a deal to remove proposals aimed at the state's $23 billion industry from the 2014 ballot. The task force is expected to make its recommendations for new laws or regulations in late February.
But the resolution approved the CCI, one of the main organizations in Colorado for local officials, includes a clause stating that "a vast majority of Colorado counties have already proven their ability to successfully regulate and negotiate in good faith with the industry to strike a balance between private, state and local interests."
The resolution said local governments can enter into "negotiated, legally-enforceable memorandums of understanding" with oil and gas companies that offer a benefit to the public while allowing energy development.
The state also has a "local government designee" program through with local concerns can be addressed, the resolution said.
The bottom line, according to the resolution, is that "CCI supports the existing statutory and regulatory framework for local authority and does not believe additional clarification is necessary at this time."
The resolution concluded with a request that CCI communicate its position with Hickenlooper. It also asks that county commissioners be given the opportunity for more input on the issue before the task force makes its recommendations.
Taylor said the resolution is expected to be discussed Friday during a CCI board meeting, but it can't be retracted without a new vote at a special meeting of the organization's general membership. Taylor said he hasn't received such a request for a special meeting and that the next general meeting is slated for June 2015.
Taylor emphasized that CCI and its membership will take a close look at whatever recommendations the task force makes and recognizes that the recommendations are likely to be the result of compromise.
"A majority of our members feel, as a general matter, that we don't need additional clarification [on local authority]," he said.
"Local government officials didn't ask for the task force. And this resolution was an expression of 'We'll have to see what you come up with — but we're not here at the well saying if you don't give us more local authority it's all over or we won't be able to do our job,'" Taylor said.
Cathy Proctor covers energy, the environment and transportation for the Denver Business Journal and edits the weekly "Energy Inc." newsletter. Phone: 303-803-9233. Subscribe to the Energy Inc. newsletter