Delta County commissioners plan to consider rescinding what county officials believe to be outdated local oil and gas regulations, with an eye toward updating them to align with new state requirements mandated by Senate Bill 181.
Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community said the better approach would be for the county to impose a moratorium on oil and gas approvals under its rules while such an update occurs.
But the county said in a news release this week that one reason for repealing its regulations pending their updating is to eliminate the prospect of the county having to defend itself from further lawsuits like one recently brought against it by that citizens group.
The county said in a news release that "defending our current regulations, which we believe are inadequate," from lawsuits such as the one recently filed and later withdrawn by Citizens for a Healthy Community is a waste of resources and taxpayer dollars.
"The State's current regulations are far more comprehensive than Delta County's current regulations. We believe our time will be better spent working with and through the State to achieve protections of public health, safety, and welfare on oil and gas development in Delta County," the county said.
The county said in the release that county commissioners will consider rescinding the county's rules at their Sept. 3 meeting.
Those regulations date to 2003 and pertain to surface impacts of oil and gas development.
SB 181 requires a broad-ranging overhaul of state oil and gas rules, something the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will be doing through rulemaking proceedings.
One of the things the bill does is explicitly authorize local governments to regulate the industry. That's an authority that conservation commission Director Jeff Robbins has said was only implied before.
"The State has kicked off a multiyear process for updating their regulations; Delta County will work in partnership with the State to update their regulations and in turn, ours," the county said in its news release.
It said the county is "seeking a comprehensive approach to oil and gas regulation that does not duplicate regulatory efforts at the state level, but is focused and targeted to local needs not addressed by the State. Our current regulations do not achieve this."
Citizens for a Healthy Community said in a prepared statement Thursday, "Repealing county regulations with no plan to regulate existing activity or review pending applications is a dereliction of duty and simply abdicates local control in favor of relying on the State. The moratorium request made by CHC and nearly 200 Delta County citizens is the ultimate in exercising local control, and would give the County the time it needs to take the necessary and appropriate actions to ensure that public health and safety are protected."
Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, Citizens for a Healthy Community's associate program director, told the Daily Sentinel, "A couple of years is a pretty long-term process in my mind. I find it troubling that our local government doesn't seem to want to exert any local control over these very local issues."
The citizens' group had sued the county over its application of its oil and gas regulations in approving a seismic project being pursued by Gunnison Energy.
Such projects involve using explosives or other means to set off surface vibrations to evaluate underground geological formations, assess oil and gas development potential and plan for drilling.
The group dropped its suit after a judge declined to grant a temporary restraining order to keep the work from going forward.