Oil & gas issues in Routt County
Steamboat Springs The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to table a new oil well permit for Quicksilver Resources until June 26. In the meantime, the county will create two task forces to study the air quality and water quality measures the commissioners think are necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare.
Quicksilver is applying for a special-use permit to drill the Camilletti oil well on private land just north of Milner, about 11 miles west of Steamboat Springs. The Routt County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit April 5.
However, the sticking point between the county commissioners and Quicksilver Resources official Stephen Lindsey comes down to differing stances on the county’s ability to require the energy company to provide water quality monitoring wells as well as to take steps to mitigate air emissions, including volatile organic compounds.
“I believe these are the two big issues” standing in the way of approval of the Camilletti permit, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said during Tuesday night’s hearing. “I don’t see anything else.”
At the end of the night, Lindsey was in agreement with a plan to table the permit application in order to convene scientific experts on air and water quality monitoring, as well as officials of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division and independent experts. The intent is to draft language for two corresponding conditions of approval that would be available for the Planning Commission and county commissioners to use in approving oil and gas drilling permits.
Lindsey consistently has said his primary goal is to come up with a “good product” — one that will achieve the county’s goals but also be fair to his company as it pursues more drilling permits in the future. He added Tuesday night that from his company’s point of view, the county approval process since December has been one that tends to add new conditions of approval as it moves along.
“The science lies in the regulatory process,” Lindsey said. “We’re not opposed to a monitoring well when it makes sense. What I see is the continuous creating of conditions of approval that becomes an ordinance. I’ve got a concern that this whole template (of conditions of approval) becomes additive and additive and additive. In some cases, the returns are diminishing and could actually be counterproductive.”
The county commissioners have a different take.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush told Lindsey that the rules the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission uses to regulate the industry are the result of a political process that didn’t always put science first.
“The regulations we have in place through COGCC are not (entirely) based on science. Let’s be clear about this,” Mitsch Bush said. “And in my opinion, they are not strong enough to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Routt County. That’s really the crux of it.”
Stahoviak told Lindsey that Routt County might not find it necessary to require energy companies to drill test water wells with every oil well. But in the case of the Camilletti project, which is up the water gradient from domestic water wells in Milner, it is appropriate.
“We would apply this condition on a case-by-case basis,” Stahoviak said. “What concerns me about this one is the huge number of wells that are down gradient from this (oil) well.”
Commissioner Doug Monger asked Lindsey if his company couldn’t make test wells a best management practice.
Lindsey pointed out that Quicksilver already was committed to baseline testing of domestic water wells, and he said that on Colorado’s Front Range, more stringent regulations are in force because energy companies are operating in an area of non-attainment of regulatory standards.
Mitsch Bush said Routt County does not want to wait until it becomes an area of non-attainment to take measures to protect water and air quality.
“Our air and water quality are not just environmental or quality-of-life issues. They are the basis of our economy,” Mitsch Bush said. “It’s what attracts people here. Why not have high standards before you have a pollution problem?”
“I absolutely understand it,” Lindsey replied. “But there are also 60 other counties working under the same regulatory standard. As I’ve said before, historically, Routt County has been the highest oil-producing county in this region. It doesn’t seem to have inhibited the growth of Routt County.”
Stahoviak said that although she has some concerns about the burden the county would bear if it takes on air quality monitoring and enforcement, she is in agreement with Mitsch Bush.
We should “put in place now what we need to monitor our air quality,” Stahoviak said, “and not wait until we’re in non-attainment. That’s not where we want to go.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com