Ben Beall: The missing piece



Ben Beall

— During the past six months, the Routt County community has been holding meetings, attending Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners meetings, participating in oil and gas committees and work groups and trying to learn as much as possible about the impacts of oil and gas development in Routt County.

The overriding goal has been to protect our natural resources and public health for present and future residents of the county, specifically from the preventable negative impacts of oil and gas operations. This effort has had as its goal the management of the coming oil development, not to stop oil development. This effort led by the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley has been focused at the elected Routt County Board of Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners is the only entity that has the responsibility of ensuring that oil and gas development here is compatible with existing master plans, area plans, community plans and land-use regulations.

It is with much frustration that residents see the present effort as unsuccessful. This breakdown is based on four facts:

  1. The commissioners have rejected most recommendations brought forward by the community to manage oil development because they are unwilling to stand up for Routt County and challenge the threat of pre-emption by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

  2. The commissioners, with this rejection of their responsibility, are relying on COGCC to protect the environment of Routt County.

  3. The rules and regulations of COGCC are inadequate in scope and specific requirements to protect Routt County from the negative impacts of oil development.

  4. The industry is unwilling to guarantee its use of industry best-management practices in the exploration and development of Routt County’s oil resources.

Coming oil development

More than 600 oil wells have been drilled in Routt County since the 1950s. Most are plugged and abandoned. It’s important to understand that a 21st-century oil field development is imminent and potentially very large with much different impacts. This fact became clear in a Jan. 13 tour sponsored by Shell Oil and the Community Alliance. Included in the Shell Oil tour were two well sites, just east of Hamilton in Moffat County, a couple of miles from the Routt County line. Four wells had been drilled last summer, and three of these are producing between 150 and 200 barrels each day from the Niobrara Shale, an economical quantity for production. The Niobrara Shale is a formation that already has yielded economical quantities in Northeastern Colorado and Jackson County.

On Jan. 19, Quicksilver Resources reported that its exploratory well on Wolf Mountain east of Hayden has the potential of producing 500 barrels each day. With a reported leased area of 930 square miles in Northwest Colorado, Quicksilver estimated oil reserves in the area of 500,000,000 barrels.

If one adds up the square miles of the oil exploration of Shell and Quicksilver, one comes up with at a minimum of a 20-mile-by-15-mile area in western Routt County equaling approximately 190,000 acres. If this area goes to production, there could be 4,750 wells at the spacing permitted by COGCC of one well per 40 acres.

If one pictures an oil field development, one needs to think of drilling rigs, equipment and machines all hauled by trucks; roads and pipelines; oil being hauled by trucks; the temporary workers for operating all the equipment; the permanent workers for the maintenance of the oil field; and families needing housing and schools.

A new strategy

A comprehensive strategy is needed that not only focuses on creating stronger local regulations to protect air, water, wildlife and the land but also addresses the cumulative impacts of full-blown oil development.

The need to address the cumulative impacts should begin by holding a countywide public meeting. All members of the community and elected officials should be invited. It also is important to invite all entities that will be impacted by a full-blown oil field development, such as boards of education, water boards, fire districts and social service organizations.

The objective should be to create an Oil Field Development Area Plan. This plan will need to address transportation, housing, schools, emergency services, law enforcement, municipal services, social services, health care, etc. This plan should be modeled on a growth management plan like the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan. This plan should be developed in coordination with the industry that will be creating phased drilling and infrastructure plans including pipelines and production facilities.

The creation of the Oil Field Development Plan will be a difficult task. But the community has done it before: the Routt County Open Lands and Vision 2020 were created in response to the threat of residential and commercial growth in the late 1990s. Area and community plans have been created by Routt County and all of our municipalities.

The bottom line is that the community needs to appreciate the magnitude of this development and create a framework that oil development can be managed for the benefit of all. This can be accomplished only through a lot of work by community members educating themselves, elected officials stepping up to the table and industry working with the community.

Ben Beall is a Steamboat Springs resident and a former Routt County commissioner (1993-2001).


sedgemo 5 years, 1 month ago

Thank you Ben, for this timely piece.

As a former commissioner yourself, how do you suggest one can be motivated in the ways you describe? The county-wide petition accomplished only a little, and no moratorium was ever honestly considered by the commissioners, in my opinion.

We will have an election in the not-too-distant future and since we may have two seats open I hope this will become a very visible campaign issue. Is there a way to produce a community-wide survey and/or questions which can be used to assess the candidates' thoughts (or lack thereof) on these issues?

With your experience (I have none) how could the pulse of the county be fairly measured in a way that could be used as a tool to help us in the coming election? How did the 2020 plan become reality?


the_Lizard 5 years ago

I'm waiting for equal space from an energy expert in this paper. Journalistic integrity would suggest that the SPT give the people of Routt County something besides Ben Beall's view. This is the second long winded opinion piece I've read this month from him and quite frankly I for one, am tired of the preachy environmentalist activist telling me what he wants. I wonder how "the Routt County Open Lands and Vision 2020 were created in response to the threat of residential and commercial growth in the late 1990s." has affected the tax base and caused lower income riff raff and worker bees to live in Oak Creek or Hayden and commute.


Scott Wedel 5 years ago

"A comprehensive strategy is needed that not only focuses on creating stronger local regulations to protect air, water, wildlife and the land but also addresses the cumulative impacts of full-blown oil development."

Was a comprehensive strategy ever developed for tourism? I look at all the consequences listed and am struck that so many also hold true for tourism. Anyone ever consider the consequences of tourism growth upon schools, housing, police and fire services and so on? Certainly, there must have been such a plan prior to considering a tax to subsidize airline flights into the valley.

I am not sure if I am suggesting that creating comprehensive strategies are an useless waste of time that merely serves as a delaying tactic, or a good idea that should be done for everything of major consequence to the valley.


sedgemo 5 years ago

Liz, great suggestion. I would love to see more serious reporting (from all sides) in this paper, too. I consider myself pretty average, love my home, love this valley, want people to have good jobs, clean air and clean water, be able to buy and sell mineral rights without divisiveness and dire consequences, and I also retain the perhaps naive hope there is a way to move forward intelligently.

Money talks, as Scott points out above (referencing the tourism industry), but surely we can sort out solutions if we learn from mistakes and aim for the best outcomes for the most citizens.

The alternative, doing a whole bunch of nothing, doesn't seem to be a good choice when the stakes are so high.


the_Lizard 5 years ago

That's why I think the letter writer Lynn Abbott's idea of a "series" was so good. I want real information from both sides. For instance can the commisioners limit the number of wells as Beall has said? Not according to this article from Douglas county.

"The oil and gas commission oversees all other oil and gas operations such as drilling sites, the number of oil wells per location and water consumption"

Or did the recent ruling by the judge in Gunnison county that Pitpoodle found change that? I don't know? What is the truth? We'll wait I guess.


kathy foos 5 years ago

Its down to who will prevail in this oil and gas issue.Our commissioners(not all) have taken the stance that they will do nothing.Just let them go at it,they have no regard for County resident's opinion .So I think there should be no permits issued,court ordered until a county wide election can be held.It's interesting to note in the news this week that Gov Hickenlooper was praised nationally for his efforts to reveal the fracking fluids and a poll at Colorado College state's that over 75 percent of the country supports EPA Clean Air and Water protections,etc.People everywhere are standing up to this potential pollution,why should we be any different in Routt County?Put it on the ballot?


the_Lizard 5 years ago

mmmk The last time you said something about putting it on the ballot, I mentioned private property rights. Apparently that's not something of interest to you, but it is to me. Private property rights, including mineral right ownership is protected by a series of laws which can't be altered though a ballot measure. In other words this is not a democracy where the tyranny of the majority rules. Since we have elected representatives that create and pass legislation that would probably be your best bet. If Mitsch-Busch (sp) is elected than see if she will sponser legislation to ban gas and oil exploration is CO. Or try to change regulatory rules at the COGCC. Good Luck. I also wanted to say I agree with Scott, things like commissions, studies and the like are delay tactics. Something that professional environmentalist are very good at


Kyle Elston 5 years ago

Mr. Beall makes many good points, particularly with his appraisal of the COGCC and Gas Industry, but with the following 2 points, I take issue:

1)"The commissioners have rejected most recommendations brought forward by the community to manage oil development because they are unwilling to stand up for Routt County and challenge the threat of pre-emption by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission."

2)"The commissioners, with this rejection of their responsibility, are relying on COGCC to protect the environment of Routt County."

Yes, many of the recommendations brought forward to the BOCC have been rejected and 2/3 commissioners have been unwilling to stand-up to the COGCC, but from all of the my experiences from dealing with this issue: Diane Mitsch Bush is not one of them. And no, Lizard, DMB is not going to sponsor legislation to ban O&G exploration in Colorado, it's just that she is actually taking the comments and recommendations of her constituents seriously into account!

While it remains to be seen what actions will be taken to protect Routt County, I feel confident in my assumption that Mrs. Mitsch-Bush is not simply "going to rely on the COGCC to protect the environment of Routt County" and that as the public continues to stay involved in the process moving forward, that it will be Mrs. Mitsch-Bush championing the demands of her county constituents and seeking any and all available options to try to satisfy them.

This issue is far from over. I believe that it's important for the public to understand that not all of the Commissioners are rejecting public recommendations and relying on the COGCC. Thus, it is important that the public understand the DMB is on our side and that at least one of our commissioners is keeping their ears open to our concerns.


Steve Lewis 5 years ago

The plans do attempt to set strategies that deal with tourism. It may not have named tourism or coal as the industry being mitigated. Instead it called them growth and mitigated the impacts of growth. The concepts of urban and land use planning have risen significantly in 2 decades. The first Steamboat Springs Area Plan was a freshman event for us, and now we are seniors, having dealt with experiences such as RiverWalk, SB700 and Wildhorse Meadows.

Steve Lindsey, of Quicksilver said it himself as he responded to a Milner resident's complaint that Quicksilver was destroying her property's market value, paraphrasing, "We are no different than having Wal-Mart build beside you." You would suffer from Wal-Mart just as you'll suffer from us."

Mitigating the impacts are entirely appropriate, and allowing impacts that the well driller never bears is entirely the right question.


the_Lizard 5 years ago

Kyle, the point was not really that DMB (as you put it) will sponser legislation to ban gas and oil exploration in CO if she is elected. That's obviously not a reality. The point was; Sun seems to think that people's legal private property rights can be put on a ballot and voted on. She wants to ban G&O in Routt county, so I was trying to tell her how it legally (although highly unlikely) might be done. Of course unelected bureaucrats, in the form of the EPA, could change all that with their decisions.


sledneck 5 years ago

They will. Right after the re-election. I fully expect fracking to be halted... nationwide.


Steve Lewis 5 years ago

Private property rights are important.

Fracking, if it harms your neighbor's air and water, is not one of those rights.


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