GarCo to rethink letting public seek drilling hearings

Garfield County commissioners will reconsider the county’s support for a lawsuit seeking to give the public the right to request a state hearing on oil and gas drilling permits.

Commissioner John Martin said commissioners will revisit the issue Tuesday to discuss whether a court brief the county submitted in December accurately reflects the position laid out by commissioners in a prior discussion.

The county submitted the brief in an appeal by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, Western Colorado Congress, Cary and Ruth Weldon and Wesley and Marcia Kent. A Denver District Court judge ruled against them in their challenge of a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rule barring the public from seeking a commission hearing on drilling permit applications.

The agency gives hearing rights only to the company seeking the permit, the landowner and local governments.

The Weldons and Kents own property in the area of a 1969 underground nuclear blast south of Rulison, and they want to be able to challenge drilling activity that is nearing the blast zone.

The industry is concerned that granting such a hearing would slow review times,  adding red tape to stricter oil and gas rules the state implemented last year.

“East Coast snowplow drivers and Piceance Basin natural gas operators have lots in common this year. Just when they’re digging out from one regulatory storm, another looms on the horizon,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Luke Danielson, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said La Plata, Gunnison, San Miguel, Pitkin and Saguache counties also are supporting the plaintiffs’ position. Weld, Las Animas, Washington and Yuma counties support the current rule, he said.

In its brief, Garfield County said the rule “is inadequate and unfair to local governments and to citizens.” It results in an unfunded mandate for governments that must spend time and money if they intervene on behalf of residents, and it can create “an uphill battle” for residents wanting the county to intervene when it might not agree about the potential impacts from the proposed drilling, the county said.

Martin said commissioners will consider whether to affirm or revise the county’s position.

He believes the commissioners’ previous discussion was intended to apply only to drilling around the nuclear blast zone and not to drilling permits in general.

“I think there needs to be more understanding of what was discussed,” he said.


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