Drilling challenge would set bad precedent, says attorney for SG Interests

An attorney for an energy company says a Gunnison County challenge of a drilling permit could lead to erosion of Colorado control over permitting and a slowdown in the process for companies to drill on federal land.

But an attorney representing the county says the effects wouldn’t be nearly so far-reaching as claimed if the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission grants its request.

At a recent hearing, the commission denied, at least for now, SG Interests’ motion to turn down Gunnison County’s request for a hearing challenging the agency staff’s approval of a drilling permit on national forest land.

The county is concerned about possible wildlife impacts related to the planned drilling. It is asking that the permit approval be held in abeyance until the Forest Service completes an environmental review related to the drilling, or else be overturned or reconsidered with new conditions.

Speaking to the commission, attorney Ken Wonstolen, representing SG Interests, questioned the legal basis for the commission to consider the county’s request in a hearing.

He said the 2007 Colorado Habitat Stewardship Act directed the oil and gas commission to establish a timely, efficient procedure for consulting with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on decisions impacting wildlife resources.

The federal National Environmental Policy Act review process sometimes can take years, he said. Making state permitting contingent on that process is far from timely and efficient, diminishes state authority, and sets bad precedent that would invite similar future challenges leading to more such delays, he said.

“I think there would be plenty of parties out there who would love to apply this process elsewhere,” he said.

But Barbara Green, an attorney representing the county, said it’s not contending the state can’t ever issue a permit until the federal environmental review process is complete.

“In this particular case we’re asking you to wait because it makes sense,” she said. “... We’re just talking about the facts of this particular case.”

Wonstolen contends the 2007 legislation was intended to address wildlife concerns raised only by Parks and Wildlife, and not by counties. But Green says the oil and gas commission rules let a county raise such concerns.

Wonstolen argued that because the county’s request runs counter to the 2007 legislation, its request should be dismissed before a full hearing on its merits.

While turning down SG’s motion for the time being, the commission left the door open to considering more legal arguments on it before proceeding to a full hearing. That hearing is scheduled for March.


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