Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lathen talks oil and gas

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 2:16 PM

The debate over proposed oil and gas drilling regulations comes to a head next Tuesday, when the Board of County Commissioners considers the county's proposed rules, which have been called overreaching by the Attorney General's Office and "onerous" by Ultra Resources, a Texas firm that wants to drill here.

Lathen: calling for balance.
  • Lathen: calling for balance.

But now, Commission Chair Amy Lathen says a majority of commissioners themselves aren't sold on the county's proposal, so whether action will be taken on Tuesday is unclear. She says in a letter to the Ranchland News that commissioners are looking to strike a balance between concerns voiced by citizens about environmental protection and assertions by the oil industry and the AG's Office that the county's rules go too far.

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Regional Building Department meeting room, 2880 International Circle.

Here's the letter in full:

Every day my phone lights up and emails roll in with comments on the oil and gas potential that exists within El Paso County today. The comments run the gamut from "ban all fracking" to "drill baby drill" and everything in-between.

It was about this time last year that the first constituent contacted me with questions because several companies were seeking to lease her land. Within a couple of weeks, her neighbors were assembled in her eastern El Paso County living room and I was there with county planners and attorneys answering questions and discovering how many folks in the area had signed leases and/or been approached to do so.

Up until that time, this had not been a big issue in our county. There have been wells drilled and fracked here over the years, but no widespread production has taken place and our land use regulations do not address the industry. Now, thousands of acres are leased or owned by oil and gas companies and the implication is that there are "pay areas" within our county to be developed.

That first meeting early last year began a series of multiple, heavily attended town hall meetings, neighborhood gatherings, work sessions, one on one discussions with land owners, planners, industry representatives, support agencies and intensive study. I have personally gone out to the fields, climbed the derricks, explored new sites in the intensive exploratory phase, established sites fully reclaimed, heard the sounds, smelled the smells, felt the fluid, stood in the fracking trucks, seen the ballistics, the equipment, cuttings, casings, drilling fluids and all related infrastructure.

I read extensively and constantly seek new information because it would be irresponsible of me to attempt to make serious decisions on this issue without as much knowledge as possible.

Last fall, our planning staff wrote a set of draft regulations for our Board to consider for adoption. This draft has been out for public comment for many weeks and was recently recommended for approval by the El Paso County Planning Commission.

The problem is that this draft, in large part, exceeds our local authority and represents several operational conflicts with the State regulations which, if enacted, would pose significant legal liability for this county and would likely be struck down. You see, by law we do not have the authority to regulate anything "down-hole", or regulate drilling sites to a higher standard beyond that which the State already regulates. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates this industry under State and Federal law and is overseeing tens of thousands of wells in the State, the vast majority of which are fracked and have been for decades.

In a recent letter from the State Attorney General's Office, the existing opinion of the majority of our Board was supported, as operational conflicts within the draft were pointed out.

Protection of private property rights demands that we protect land owners who wish to develop their property and mineral rights.

New technology in directional drilling demands that we protect property rights of surrounding owners from expanded impacts.

State law demands that we have no authority "down-hole" and that we cannot exceed regulatory standards of extensive, existing State laws.

Our obligation to our county constituents demands that we protect road and surface infrastructure (owned by the taxpayers) from the heavy impacts of trucks and equipment.

Our obligation to our county constituents also demands that we protect our most vital groundwater assets.

Our jobs demand that we balance all of this in common sense, responsible policy that does not exceed the reality of our authority and does as much as possible to protect all land owners.

Our jobs also demand that we balance all of this in harmony with an open door to business, jobs and energy production.

I demand of myself that my decisions remain rooted in calm, sound, logical, common sense thinking, Colorado's geological landscape, science, and the law.

The majority of this Board does not support the draft regulations in their current form and is working daily with our staff, the State of Colorado, citizens and industry representatives to strike that balance which the law allows and the People and our obligations demand.

Amy Lathen
Chair
El Paso County Commissioner, District 2
719-520-6412

Lathen is holding a town hall meeting at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Disabled Veterans Office, 6880 Palmer Park Blvd., where she will talk about the oil and gas regulations and other topics as well as take questions and comments from the public.

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