Updated December 9, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.
View the online petition here.
Steamboat Springs Kyle Elston said Thursday that he was convinced he needed to inject himself into Routt County’s oil and gas debate shortly after he finished building fences last summer on a ranch south of Stagecoach.
“I was working alongside a couple people who came here from Rifle and told me about all the negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas exploration in Garfield County,” Elston said before he started his shift as a substitute teacher at Soroco High School. “They said the air quality there is terrible and some livestock are suffering.”
Elston, who said he opposes most forms of oil and gas exploration, said he has attended every public meeting he can in Routt County that centers on the permitting process. At a Tuesday night Routt County Board of Commissioners meeting, he was disappointed when two of the three commissioners opposed a short-term moratorium on new permits for oil and gas wells.
“It’s very frustrating to me because it seemed like they closed their ears to the demands of people in the room,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Elston launched an online petition asking the commissioners to reconsider their opposition to the moratorium. Twenty-four hours later, more than 150 people had joined him in signing it. By Friday morning the number had swelled to more than 260. Elston said that he isn’t hoping to reach a specific threshold of signatures but that he hopes the petition persuades the commissioners to impose stricter regulations on oil and gas development, including baseline testing for water and air quality.
“In a lot of ways, I’m happy that so many people have signed it already,” said Elston, who graduated from the University of Colorado in August. “I’m at this age where in some ways I’m not ready to just completely give up on a democratic system. I’m not ready to be complacent and accept the answer of the commissioners when I know (their decision) wasn’t what the majority of the people (at the meeting) wanted.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, which drew at least 80 community members to the Routt County Courthouse, Commissioners Doug Monger and Nancy Stahoviak opposed a moratorium on new oil and gas permits and said the county should continue strengthening the regulations it already places on energy exploration. Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush offered the dissenting voice and said she would like to see a two- to three-month halt on new well permits because the county does not have enough information as to how an increase in drilling would affect air and water quality, among other things.
“We need more time to look at all the data we have and take the advice of the many people and citizens who are so concerned about this,” Mitsch Bush said Thursday.
She added that the county’s tourism-based economy, environment and health are at stake.
“All you need is one well to go bad, and then a property becomes worthless. We’ve seen it in other places, and I certainly hope we can learn from the other problems other areas have had.”
Stahoviak and Monger said they were receiving emails Thursday from constituents who signed the petition, but both indicated the opposition will not cause them to reconsider a moratorium.
“We already knew these people were against our decision, and it doesn’t change my picture of it at all,” Monger said. “I think we have all the tools in our toolbox necessary to deal with the issues of oil and gas permits. We probably have the strongest set of regulations in the state.”
He added that state statue likely would disallow the county from imposing a moratorium on new permits.
Stahoviak said the process the county already has in place to approve new permits is sufficient.
“My bottom-line reaction is we don’t believe we need a new moratorium,” she said. “I appreciate the passion and the desire for everyone to want to be involved in this issue, and I continue to ask them to do that.”
Meanwhile, Elston is using social media sites like Facebook to continue spreading the petition. He plans to collect more signatures this weekend in person in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Tim Rowse, who was among the first to sign the petition, said a moratorium would be beneficial to the county and to energy companies.
“Every element of the existing code needs to be looked at and then some,” he said. “A moratorium on oil and gas permits is a good idea until we do strengthen our regulations.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com