State, local regulations inconsistent, official says

A disconnect between Colorado and Garfield County regulations regarding an oil and gas wastewater recycling facility south of Silt shows a need for better interagency regulatory coordination, says an official who represents both the state’s and county’s interests.

Tresi Houpt is a Garfield County commissioner and sits on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as its local government representative. She raised her concerns Sunday as the commission considered new rules applying to oil and gas development pits.

Houpt suggested requiring that applicants for pit approvals by the state first have local and federal approvals in place.

She cited the ongoing situation involving a Bill Barrett Corp. facility on land it owns south of Silt. The company sought county approval for a water processing facility, but the county decided it had to reapply with the Aspen Valley Land Trust as a coapplicant because the trust holds a conservation easement on the land. The trust opposes the facility.

The commission later accused Barrett of operating such a facility on the site. But then the agency decided the operation was allowable because it was a multiwell water treatment pit, smaller than a centralized pit and intended for shorter-term use. In its rules rewrite, the commission is seeking to clarify how its requirements would apply to different sizes of pits.

The county has decided to pursue possible legal action against Barrett. Houpt said the issue points to the problem of energy companies receiving state approvals for land uses even if they lack local approval.

“I think it’s very important for us to be very clear that we recognize local land use regulations as we put these (state) regulations in place because we are expanding our authority on what we’re permitting and regulating,” Houpt said.

However, some other commissioners on Sunday said Houpt’s proposal produced a “Catch 22” question of which government’s approval should come first. In addition, Commissioner Harris Sherman, who also is executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the state may not want to wait for local government to take regulatory action, and vice versa.

The state is working with La Plata County about consistent regulations. Commissioner Dave Neslin said that could provide insight into whether Houpt’s proposal might merit pursuing.

At that, she withdrew a motion on her proposal, but said she planned to bring it up again later.


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