Weld commissioners unanimously designate county as oil and gas local-control county

From the Denver Post

GREELEY — Weld County is letting it be known that there’s more than one way to interpret Senate Bill 181 — Colorado’s sweeping oil and gas law giving local governments appreciably more power to regulate energy extraction.

The Weld commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Monday designating the unincorporated parts of the county as a “mineral resource area of state interest.”

Previous discussion of SB 181 has focused on municipalities that want to tighten restrictions on the oil and gas industry, but commissioners Monday expressed a clear interest in making sure the industry remains a formidable force in a county that relies heavily on mineral extraction for jobs and tax revenues.

“SB 181 changed a lot of things,” said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer during Monday’s meeting. “We are going to use the additional authority … that was given to us so that we have a fighting chance — so that the men and women in this county have a fighting chance.”

Weld County is responsible for nearly nine of every 10 barrels of oil produced in Colorado and also generates more than 30 percent of the state’s natural gas, as the county sits atop the mineral-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin.

The passage of SB 181 this spring reset the regulatory landscape for Colorado’s $30 billion-plus industry, ending state pre-emption of local efforts to rein in oil and gas operators through increased setback requirements for wells or moratoriums on new drilling.

 

Many opposed to drilling cite health concerns from spills, explosions and emissions from rapidly proliferating well pads that they feel have been located too close to neighborhoods along the fast-growing Front Range.

But for areas in Colorado where oil and gas plays an instrumental role in the local economy, the thinking is that SB 181 threatens energy jobs.

Commissioner Sean Conway said other counties in Colorado whose economic fortunes also depend on a robust oil and gas sector will be looking to Weld County “for our leadership” and “guidance” on how to move ahead in a post-181 environment.

Whether Weld County’s move means that it will attempt to create oil and gas regulations that are less restrictive than what state law permits is not yet known. The county will spend the next several weeks making changes to its code dealing with oil and gas extraction.

Matt Sura, an oil and gas attorney who represents several Front Range communities, said while SB 181 eradicated state pre-emption of local governments over oil and gas issues, the new law doesn’t do away with the state’s authority over the industry altogether.

“SB 181 specifically gives local governments the power to go beyond state control but it does not give them the power to be less restrictive than the state,” Sura said.

If State of Colorado determines Weld County is not restrictive enough, state will triumph

The check on that comes in the form of dual permits needed from both the state and local government before a well can be drilled, he said. If the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state’s regulatory body, feels like Weld is violating state statute in approving well permits it could refuse to issue its own permit, he said.

In “new era” of oil and gas regulation, Colorado communities waste no time writing own rules

But Bruce Barker, attorney for Weld County, disagrees that the county can’t set rules that are less stringent than the state’s. Weld County commissioners aim to keep their regulations where the state rules are today, he said, but will invoke the local control given to them by SB 181 if state regulators tighten regulations over the next year of rulemaking.

“When the governor said it’s all about local control, he was right,” Barker said.

The commissioners’ hearing room was packed Monday morning as people spoke, mostly in favor of Weld County’s resolution.

“I’m working hard to get rid of the person who brought this horrible SB 181 into effect,” said Renee McGill, a Greeley resident who wore a Recall Polis T-shirt.

Windsor Mayor Kristie Melendez was one of several local politicians who spoke before the commissioners, commending them for their resolution. “I steadfastly stand with Weld County — that what is right for Boulder isn’t necessarily right for Weld County,” she said.

 


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