Residents seek more say over drilling permits

Residents who say Colorado’s oil and gas commission muzzles their voices over drilling-permit approvals gave the commission an earful about the matter Thursday.

People living in Garfield County and other far-flung parts of the state traveled to Denver to complain at a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting about its refusal to let the general public request commission hearings on drilling permits.

Among them was Dave Devanney, one of many Battlement Mesa residents concerned about recently announced plans by Antero Resources to drill in their housing development of 5,500 people.

“The residents of Battlement Mesa deserve to have their say because they’re going to be likely to endure hardships,” Devanney told the commission Thursday.

At issue is who can request commission hearings on drilling-permit applications. Those rules long have allowed local governments to seek hearings.

New rules implemented

April 1 also give a blanket hearing right to the company seeking a permit and a limited one to the owner of the land where drilling would occur.

Commission Director Dave Neslin said granting a broader hearing right to the public could result in the commission, whose members are volunteers, being swamped by hundreds or even thousands of hearing requests each year.

The issue has ended up in court after residents and citizen groups sued in hopes of forcing a hearing over applications to drill near the 1969 Project Rulison underground nuclear blast site south of Rulison.

A Denver judge dismissed that lawsuit in May, but the plaintiffs filed an appeal in the case this week.

In the meantime, their attorney, Luke Danielson, has continued to make hearing requests regarding other drilling-permit applications near Project Rulison and in other parts of the state, including in Dolores County and on the Baca National Wildlife Area in the San Luis Valley.

Neslin repeatedly has turned him down and said the commission addressed issues such as drilling around Project Rulison in numerous public meetings.

It is planning another meeting on Project Rulison next month in Garfield County.

Some residents said the commission’s process is one-sided and denies them their rights. But commission member Mark Cutright said the commission serves as a representative democracy, and he noted that a commissioner always has a right to request a hearing.

“I haven’t heard any of my fellow commissioners do that yet,” he said.


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