Set to contemplate new spherical of oil, gasoline guidelines, Colorado regulators face questions on their authority

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With regulators digging into the majority of proposals to hold out a broad overhaul of oil and gasoline guidelines, Colorado’s two high energy-producing counties are questioning the state’s authority to determine minimal requirements.
The newly seated full-time Colorado Oil and Fuel Conservation Fee is beginning two weeks of hearings on the so-called “mission change” portion of laws implementing Senate Invoice 181. The 2019 regulation modified the COGCC’s mission from fostering oil and gasoline growth to regulating it in a way that protects the general public well being, security and the setting.
The regulation additionally expanded native governments’ authority to supervise oil and gasoline below their powers to manage land makes use of. And that’s the place the rub is anticipated as trade and native authorities representatives, group members and environmental organizations log onto the nearly held hearings that begin Monday.
“I feel the principles are overreaching at greatest,” Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer mentioned of the COGCC’s proposals that tackle, amongst different issues, the situation of oil and gasoline wells, the cumulative impacts of drilling and who can contest growth proposals.
Weld County is the state’s high oil and gasoline producer with roughly 20,000 of Colorado’s practically 52,000 energetic wells. County officers opposed a number of provisions of SB 181 and sued over new laws the Colorado Air High quality Management Fee accredited in December to hold out the regulation.
In July, a state district choose dismissed the lawsuit, saying Weld County didn’t present that the principles would hurt it. Citing the identical cause, a choose final week tossed out the same lawsuit by Garfield County.
Though Weld County officers spoke towards SB 181, they supported empowering counties to resolve the siting of wells and different issues associated to what occurs on high of the bottom with oil and gasoline. Kirkmeyer mentioned the county desires enter from the COGCC on nicely websites, however that below the brand new regulation, the company’s authority is primarily over the “down gap,” or underground actions corresponding to drilling.
“They should keep of their lane, mainly, and their lane is down gap,” Kirkmeyer mentioned. “They’re not a co-equal authority with regards to land use.”
That interpretation of the regulation is improper, mentioned Mike Freeman, a Denver-based lawyer with Earthjustice who’s representing environmental teams through the hearings on the principles.
“For those who take a look at the language of the invoice, what they’re arguing doesn’t make any sense,” Freeman mentioned. “Sure, SB 181 gave native governments extra authority over land use, but it surely additionally expanded the state’s necessities for land use.”
A letter to the COGCC from the invoice’s most important sponsors makes the intent clear, which was to determine requirements that native governments can exceed however not go under,  Freeman added.
The Aug. 14 letter says the intent was to make native governments and the COGCC co-equal authorities in allowing oil and gasoline operations. Firms should get permits from each the state and native governments which have their very own oil and gasoline guidelines.
“The COGCC mandate to guard public well being, security, welfare and the setting applies to all elements of the state,” in line with a separate letter from a number of Home and Senate members. “Oil and gasoline growth should fulfill each native and state laws to be allowed to proceed.”
The brand new regulation changed the earlier coverage, strengthened by the courts, that state legal guidelines pre-empted efforts by native governments to impose stronger restrictions. The Colorado Oil and Fuel Affiliation, a commerce affiliation that previously fought native guidelines and drilling bans, mentioned below SB 181, deference needs to be given to the native governments on issues just like the siting of wells.
“Native governments perceive the communities, perceive the distinctive wants, perceive the expansion patterns and the place they’re going,” mentioned Dan Haley, COGA CEO and president.
Haley acknowledged that the group beforehand complained concerning the prospect of a patchwork of native guidelines.
“I’d a lot choose if we wish to get right into a time machine and return to the place we have been earlier than. I feel that was an optimum state of affairs,” Haley mentioned. “However the state modified the regulation, so we’ve got to take care of the regulation that we’ve got right this moment, and we’ve got to determine methods to make this work with and for as many individuals as potential.”
Garfield County, the state’s second-largest vitality producer with practically 12,000 wells, additionally believes deference needs to be given to native governments on land-use issues.
“In SB 181, the Colorado Normal Meeting, we expect, emphatically affirmed and vastly expanded the authority invested in native authorities to manage oil and gasoline and the siting and floor results, as nicely on the similar time vastly diminished the (COGCC’s) powers,” mentioned Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gasoline liaison.
Wynn manages the Western and Rural Native Authorities Coalition, which lists 23 communities and counties as members. The group opposes laws it says don’t make sense in rural Colorado and disproportionately hurt native economies.
Critics of Garfield County’s opposition to SB 181 and its lawsuit be aware that the county is the one member financing the coalition. The county has allotted $1.5 million for consultants and attorneys from a fund meant to mitigate the impacts of oil and gasoline growth. The cash consists of income from federal oil and gasoline leases, mineral royalties and severance taxes.
“We expect that’s some huge cash to spend on very costly attorneys and consultants in a time of an financial disaster and a well being disaster,” mentioned Emily Hornback, the manager director of the Grand Junction-based Western Colorado Alliance. 
The alliance intervened on behalf of the state in Garfield County’s lawsuit towards the brand new guidelines on oil and gasoline emissions.  Hornback mentioned the alliance believes that points round well being and the siting of wells “don’t change irrespective of the place you reside.”
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“We now have a giant worry that the sum of money the county is throwing at that is disproportionately elevating their voice above the voices of a few of their very own constituents,” Hornback mentioned.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky and Wynn mentioned the cash helps the county put together for and take part in 10 separate hearings in addition to cowl the lawsuit’s prices. Jankovsky mentioned the county’s oil and gasoline mitigation fund nonetheless has $16.eight million in it.
“We’re taking care of the well being, security and welfare of our constituents. Well being and security are a part of what SB 181 is about, and we’re on the desk on that. And welfare is the financial piece of it. Oil and gasoline are an necessary a part of our financial system,” Jankovsky mentioned.
About 49% of the county’s funds comes from oil and gasoline income, the commissioner mentioned. Throughout a pure gasoline increase on the Western Slope within the early 2000s, roughly 70% of the county’s funds got here from oil and gasoline.
“Our group understands the significance of the trade in Garfield County’s financial system. Not one of the positions we’ve taken as a corporation is attempting to cease the trade from creating in Garfield County,” Hornback mentioned. “However we do consider in defending the general public well being and security of individuals and defending environmental sources.”

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