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Greasing the wheels 

Oil and gas ordinance moves closer to a final vote

With just weeks before the April 2 election, Colorado Springs City Council is feeling the pressure to act on the issue of oil and gas drilling in the city.

"We really are running out of time," says Councilor Jan Martin. "We owe it to the public and the oil companies."

But it appears that one sector of the public — those who've been calling for a formal public hearing on the issue — will not get what they feel is owed to them.

"We've had six months' worth of weekly meetings," said Councilor Angela Dougan at Monday's informal meeting. "I think that we've heard from both sides."

Sitting Councilors picked March 12 for a second reading of the ordinance, which had been shelved two months ago due to a number of outstanding questions — some of which are still outstanding.

In his presentation Monday, Local Government Designee Kyle Campbell, the city's liaison with the state and the oil and gas industry, was able to handle a few issues.

Disposal of fracking fluids: Campbell told Council there are no existing injection wells (where used fracking fluids can go) locally, because none of the wells have yet gone into the production phase. When they do, the issue of disposal would be one of the first issues tackled in the permitting process, he added.

Oversight of the LGD's office: Campbell explained that while Council has the responsibility to set the policy he follows as LGD, the authority to oversee his day-to-day activities resides with the mayor.

Monitoring air conditions: Campbell explained that the state is still working on finalizing its own regulations regarding that matter. He didn't address possible local controls.

Hiring a local inspector: With no companies actually drilling yet, Campbell said it was still too early to consider.

Insurance: Campbell said companies are required to carry $1 million general liability insurance, which would cover bodily harm or property damage, though it was unclear to him if this extended to the damage of others' property or just that of the company holding the policy. He also stated that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission maintains an Environmental Response Fund, $4 million used to cover environmental damage and the reclamation of property, or to plug abandoned wells. According to Campbell, this fund has only been used six times over six years, covering costs ranging from $17,000 to $265,000.

It is when the presentation turned to issues of the mineral rights of public parks and the potential financial impact from drilling that Campbell's answers were more complicated, if not unsatisfying.

On mineral rights, he said Trails, Open Space & Parks has hired a third-party consultant, at $12,800, "to better understand the mineral rights ownership underneath some of the larger properties." The mineral rights of Corral Bluffs, the extension of Corral Bluffs and Jimmy Camp Creek Regional Park are currently being investigated, but no findings are ready to be released.

Meanwhile, the economic impact information he could provide was limited, since there's not yet been drilling in the county to reference. He was able to say that an average active well employs 100 people, and that according to his state-provided numbers, there were 2,096 people in the county employed by the industry as of 2010, with average wages between $73,000 and $109,000.

Martin and others grumbled about the lack of complete information. But that in the end they chose to move forward anyway, frustrated activist Eric Verlo.

"It's incredible that they raise these great issues, and they got really no answers," Verlo says. "They got nothing. And so how can they then segue to say, 'Well, we're ready to make a decision'?"

chet@csindy.com

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