Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On the failure of the oil-and-gas ordinance

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 at 2:59 PM

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Yesterday, Colorado Springs City Council failed to pass city oil and gas regulations, on a 4-4 vote.

Voting in favor of the ordinance were Tim Leigh, Angela Dougan, Merv Bennett and Bernie Herpin; in opposition were Scott Hente, Jan Martin, Brandy Williams and Val Snider. Lisa Czelatdko was absent.

Snider pointed to the "hundreds of e-mails" that he says he has received on the issue, and claimed that "the far majority was from the side of not wanting to drill in the city limits."

Williams, who voted in support of the ordinance on its first reading, explained that her change in position rested on her desire to see more guarantees on water quality testing, and noted state health officials have said they "still don't know" enough about how drilling affects air quality.

"If nothing else, this brought about engagement," she says of the months-long process. "I ask you to stay engaged. This is not the easiest job in the world. It's hard when people start questioning who you are and what you believe."

Hente said he wasn't against drilling, even fracking, but the disregard for home-rule powers is what made him vote against the regulations. This was a concern that Hente voiced back in January as well. State oil and gas officials have said cities have no authority to impose rules that are stricter than the state's regulations, he noted. "If I had an ordinance in front of me that respected the city's home rule authority, I would be voting for it."

During the course of the meeting, Dougan threw down a peculiar gauntlet, stating that she would drink well water from any frack site. A consistent supporter of the ordinance, she appeared to have made up her mind early on: She only attended 5 of the 14 meetings held by the oil and gas task force — and, according to meeting minutes, was only present for roughly half of the time during the meetings she did attend.

She warned her colleagues that, "by saying no [to the ordinance], you're losing your place at the table."

With the ordinance stalled, if a driller wants to frack within city limits, it will be limited to drilling on property zoned for agriculture. Otherwise, they'll have to go through Council to have it re-zoned, or hope that a new Council decides to reconsider an ordinance upon being seated next month.

Hente says later that he's pleased with the outcome of yesterday's vote, though he regrets that it wasn't a full Council. Asked whether he felt that the Council had "lost its seat at the table," he refers to the strife that's playing out at other "tables" around the state.

"I still think that short of having the state sue us," he says, "they have to comply with all our rules. So I don't think we've lost a seat at the table.

"I gotta tell you, the second and third largest cities in the state now have made pretty definitive statements — Fort Collins and Colorado Springs," he continues, pointing to Fort Collins' recent ban on fracking. "I would ask the state, and the governor, how antagonistic do you want to be with all your municipalities? And I think there's a better answer than just suing all the municipalities."

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