GarCo votes against regs on fracturing by the feds

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In a decision being cheered by the energy industry and lamented by some area residents, the leading natural-gas-producing county in Colorado has come out against legislation to federally regulate hydraulic fracturing of wells.

Garfield County commissioners voted 2–1 Monday in opposition to legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver. The bill would subject fracturing to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of chemicals used in the process.

The vote disappointed several county residents who attended Monday’s commissioner meeting and fear fracturing could contaminate drinking water. But Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin said the oil and gas industry is better off being regulated at the state level.

“Every time the federal government gets involved, the cost goes up,” Samson said. “I know of nothing that the federal government does for us that does not cost money.”

But fellow Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who also sits on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, questioned the contention that the bill would drive up costs.

She added, “Why are we talking about costs? Why aren’t we talking about safety and health and welfare?”

Lee Estes, who lives in an area of gas development east of Rifle, said he was “very disappointed” by the commissioners’ latest energy-related decision.

“I just wish once they would support the people instead of just looking at the fiscal side of it,” he said.

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association said in a news release that Garfield County joins Delta, Mesa, Moffat, Morgan, Rio Blanco, Washington, Weld and Yuma counties in opposing DeGette’s bill. The nine counties represent nearly 44 percent of the state’s gas production. By contrast, the two counties that have supported the legislation, Pitkin and San Miguel, are responsible for less than 1 percent of statewide production, the association says.

Industry officials worry that the federal regulation could result in fees of up to $100,000 per well and in lengthy permitting delays that would harm domestic production.

Houpt said industry threats not to develop domestic energy if the legislation passes are “a form of blackmail, and I think it’s unfortunate.”

The industry says there’s never been a documented case of fracturing contaminating groundwater. Rifle-area resident Jim Golden said he’s tired of hearing the argument that contamination is just anecdotal, and said Garfield commissioners have heard from plenty of people who are suffering as a result of drilling.

“It’s absolutely horrible to have to stand up to our own local government to fight for your health and safety,” he told the commissioners.

Martin said if there were federal regulation of the industry, there would be less flexibility in seeking rule changes. Keeping regulations within the state improves accountability and serves local interests better, he said.

Samson said while regulation of the industry is best left to the state oil and gas commission, commission members aren’t doing a good enough job in reacting to health-related concerns.

“They’re the ones that are empowered to do that, so get it done,” he said.

The comment caused Houpt to bristle. The commission this year implemented far-reaching new regulations on oil and gas development, including a requirement for disclosure of chemicals used in drilling in certain circumstances. Houpt said the industry points to that requirement in arguing against the federal legislation, and yet COGA has sued to challenge the state rules.

“So are we in a situation where the industry doesn’t really want to be regulated?” Houpt asked.

COGA said Monday its suit doesn’t challenge any specific rule, but rather “the state’s wholly inadequate cost/benefit analysis” related to the new rules.

“Furthermore, the rule requiring disclosure of fracking additives to public officials or medical professionals was not considered contentious, and enjoyed broad support and input from industry and others during the rulemaking process,” COGA said.

Samson and Martin, both Republicans, won elections last November after benefiting from independent campaign expenditures from energy-related interests. For Samson, a newcomer to office, Monday was perhaps his most significant energy-related vote to date. All three commissioners said they heard from numerous constituents regarding the fracturing legislation, and county staff members told commissioners they received thousands of comments.


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