Our View: Motion not same as action

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Editorial Board, February to May 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Karen Massey, community representative
  • Jeff Swoyer, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

We warily gave our approval when in late February Gov. John Hickenlooper created a task force assigned to “help clarify and better coordinate the regulatory jurisdiction between the state and local governments over oil and gas operation.”

We said it was appropriate for the governor’s office to get involved in the ongoing friction between state officials and local governments and to provide the latter with clarity about how much jurisdiction they have over drilling within their boundaries. But as we feared, that really didn’t happen.

After reading summaries of the findings, we think they can be summarized as a call for little more than improved communication. We think Colorado’s county and municipal governments need more help than that to answer their constituents’ questions. Routt County residents want answers about how far county commissioners can go to apply their own zoning regulations to safeguard public health, homes and businesses, as well as how much the state is doing to protect air and water quality in areas of energy exploration.

We think the task force could have looked into the politically charged question of whether existing penalties are being adequately applied to energy companies that run afoul of regulations.

According to a report by the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, which relied on Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission documents for its research, relatively few fines are being imposed. In 2010, 319 notices of alleged violations were issued to 93 operators, but just 10 operators received penalties. The numbers of alleged violations went down to 230 in 2011 and penalties were issued to 22 operators.

Officials have said in public hearings here that they tend not to issue fines if alleged violations promptly are addressed.

We think the task force could have looked into whether it needs to recommend that the governor direct the Oil and Gas Commission to be more proactive in applying fines for the intended purpose of deterring practices that allow violations to occur.

The Oil and Gas Commission employs 15 field inspectors and a supervisor to visit oil and gas drilling and production sites and ensure that state regulations are being met. It’s reassuring, to a degree, that one of those 15 inspectors is based in Steamboat Springs.

However, the Earthworks report, which was published last month, found that in 2010 there were 43,000 active wells in Colorado and 16,228 inspections were carried out. Those numbers show that more than half of the wells aren’t inspected annually.

We think the task force could have urged the governor’s office and the state Legislature to consider new ways to make energy companies fund a more robust inspection.

The task force urged local governments to assign a “local government designee” to communicate directly with Oil and Gas Commission officials. And that’s a good idea. But Routt County already has acted on that invitation from the Oil and Gas Commission and has a very competent person in place. The task force recommendation that the Oil and Gas Commission hire additional local government designee coordinators could speed up those interactions, but it’s hardly a substantive change.

As the novelist Ernest Hemingway once said, don’t mistake motion for action.

Comments

Fred Duckels 1 year, 12 months ago

It would be possible to hold more local authority, but we have some waiting with baited breath to intervene on the local level in order to cripple the drillers. Local control is pictured as the weak link by activists which prevents the oil co's from opening up much. The activists are pursuing their agenda and the public is getting the short straw.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 12 months ago

I agree with the editorial. Good points were made which echo the problems Routt County is trying to solve, such as how to fund adequate oversight of this very wealth industry. Today the oversight is a joke, and the industry should be covering the costs of its own monitoring. We are basically begging companies to report their pollution impacts on a voluntary basis.

The task force backed down from its delineation of "who is in control", and that is probably a good thing, as the task force was stacked with industry interests.

And they probably would have had to back up any new delineation of that boundary in court. Barbara Green, a Colorado attorney and also a member of the task force, was a recent speaker at a local forum. She knows these boundaries and believes the County has strong rights. Her portion of the forum begins about minute 33 and is well worth watching:

http://vimeo.com/40402466

Local Control would allow local jurisdictions to go beyond the current baseline, which is unfortunately a very low standard.

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mark hartless 1 year, 12 months ago

I'm not sure I follow the statement "the industry should be covering the costs of its own monitoring." Does the industry not pay taxes? Do they not obtain (purchase with money) the required permits before they "break ground"? Are the tax revenues (money given to government) from the oil and gas industry not substantial?

Is the question why those revenues have not been specifically directed toward "monitoring" rather than thrown in to "the pot" that is government; or is the question why can't government use this situation to ask for even more $$$$ ?

Or does this industry currently send NOTHING to the government with which they could fund "monitoring"?...which would be an accomplishment Harry Houdidn would love to have explained to him

Just asking...

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

Mark, I take it your concern is that energy companies are paying enough already. The State should pony up the funds? Or are you o.k. with the polluting behavior and State mentality as is - i.e. the status quo.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_20482178?source=commented

EPA says oil spills in Colorado's North Park hurting creek - 4/26/12

"Oil stains extend from Lone Pine Gas facilities for about 1.25 miles along shorelines of Spring Gulch Creek. Besides oil, Englewood-based Lone Pine — with state permission — has been releasing 200,000 to 400,000 gallons a day of treated drilling wastewater directly into creek waters, raising landowner concerns."

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming-well-blowout-rattles-residents-company-hopes-to-cap-it/article_e8fc2e2c-6816-59eb-aec2-69e0776a3dd2.html

Wyoming well blowout rattles residents; company hopes to cap it today -4/26/12

"DOUGLAS — The cloud of natural gas looked like a dust storm, rolling in from the tall drilling rig northwest of her home near Douglas, Pat Miller thought."

"Chesapeake said the drilling mud from the well was “largely being contained” at the site, where the company was drilling into the Niobrara Shale formation, and the gas was dissipating into the air."

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

And the Earthworks report referenced in the editorial:

http://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/REPORT-Colorado-Enforcement.pdf

"In 2010 and 2011, Noble Energy had more spills than any other operator (126 spills – 81 affected ground water, 6 sur- face water),5 yet in 2011 it received an Outstanding Operator Award for environmental protection from the COGCC.6 Congratulating the worst spill offender for its efforts at pre- venting pollution sends the message to both the public and other operators that spills don’t matter and there are no real consequences for breaking the rules."

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