Garfield County candidates spar on energy issues

Garfield County commissioner incumbents and their challengers in this fall’s election sparred Wednesday over how much the county can and should do to help protect the public and environment as oil and gas development occurs.

Incumbent Republicans John Martin and Mike Samson squared off with their respective opponents, Democrats Sonja Linman and Aleks Briedis, as part of an election forum presented by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Briedis noted that the county has committed $1 million to a new air quality study related to drilling, along with $800,000 committed by industry, and said all the information from that study needs to be made public.

Commissioners ended a previous drilling-related health impact study in its draft stage.

“We didn’t do anything with that, so I hope we don’t throw this other million dollars away also,” he said.

Martin said the previous study had become a “political football.” The new one will be run by Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, federal agencies and professional scientists that will do 28 tests on air emissions, he said.

“We will know exactly what is out there. We will share that with the world,” he said.

“We believe (oil and gas development) should be safe and this study will show it will be,” he said.

Samson said a lot of people think county commissioners have permitting authority over oil and gas operations, when that’s actually done by the state. He also pointed to a recently filed lawsuit by the state against Longmont that challenges the level of local regulation over the industry that city has imposed.

The outcome of that suit “will guide and direct what happens in the future for Garfield County as well as other counties concerning the health, safety and welfare” regulations surrounding drilling, he said.

Linman said the county shouldn’t have stopped the prior study, should have demanded baseline air and water studies before drilling in the county occurred, and has the right to demand things such as drilling impact fees and setbacks.

“If we really care about our water and our people we will not allow 150 feet (drilling) setbacks from waterways or personal properties. That’s unacceptable,” she said.

Briedis also criticized commissioners for participating in a closed-door, Vernal, Utah, meeting with other counties and the oil shale industry. Samson agreed the meeting shouldn’t have been secret, but said Garfield commissioners hadn’t known it would be, and noted that they since have revoked an oil shale position they adopted as a result of that meeting.


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