Steamboat Springs The unfolding tension between Routt County officials and Quicksilver Resources regarding its plans to drill exploratory oil wells here figures to be a debating point and perhaps a differentiator in the races for county commissioner Districts 1 and 2 this fall.
The local debate centers on pre-emption — the legal concept that, in this case, state law trumps local regulations.
County commissioner District 1, primarily comprising South Routt County, pits Democrat Tim Corrigan against Republican Jim “Moose” Barrows. The winner will fill Nancy Stahoviak’s seat. In District 2, Democratic incumbent Doug Monger faces a challenge from Republican Tina Kyprios.
The commissioners voted, 3-0, on Tuesday to approve Quicksilver’s permit to drill the Camilletti Well on private land about a mile north of Milner, and in so doing included a condition of approval requiring Quicksilver to also drill a water-quality monitoring well. The intent is to safeguard 39 domestic water wells down-gradient from the well pad.
Thom Kerr, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, “strongly encouraged” the commissioners not to attach the water testing well to their approval, adding that it would usurp his agency’s statutory authority to regulate the technical aspects of oil and gas development.
In his remarks Tuesday night, Monger said he was comfortable with the testing well being required of Quicksilver.
“I believe this board is going to be very much interested in protecting water,” Monger said. “Our constituents are asking us what we’ll do about air quality, as well. … And I agree that the (Oil and Gas Commission) and the (Colorado Department of Health and Environment) aren’t necessarily doing what needs to be done to protect us, and that’s why we’re stepping into an area where we need to protect health, safety and welfare. It’s part of our job. It’s what we need to do.”
Kyprios, who attended several of Quicksilver’s public hearings, said it appears that the state thinks the county is overstepping it bounds while at the same time the commissioners think they’re within their authority.
“We all want the same thing, which is safe, clean responsible exploration of natural resources,” Kyprios said. “We all know we need it. I don’t think anybody denies that. I do believe the science is in place to make that happen.”
Kyprios said the county commissioners have been thorough in their analysis of the Quicksilver application, and the community has been engaged.
“I’m thankful for groups like the Community Alliance that have been around for a long, long time because they’re forcing companies to do things right,” Kyprios said, but “I think we need to be careful about running out good companies. That is a concern of mine. There are good companies and bad companies. We want to make sure we’re working with good operators.”
Kyprios said a valuable next step would be to confront the community’s fears related to energy exploration.
“Let’s name the fear, be honest about the fear and talk about how we address the fear,” Kyprios said. “Facts conquer fear.”
Barrows said he has not attended any Quicksilver hearings. He said the public hearings should not have taken as long as they did and is concerned that rural property owners and mineral rights holders who may have signed leases with energy companies are being denied their rights.
“Without having all the information at my disposal, I don’t wish to comment on the decision as it stands. However, the length of the process was detrimental to the mineral leaseholders and property owners. I think they have rights that have to be protected.”
“In general, it’s my belief that we need to be proactive to be certain we don’t get poor-quality drillers,” Barrows added. “There are a limited number of operators, and if our restrictions are too heavy, those operators will go somewhere it’s streamlined and they can get rigs working.”
Corrigan, Barrows’ opponent, attended Tuesday’s meeting and was left with the impression that the vote had statewide implications for the relationship between Colorado counties and the Oil and Gas Commission.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the specifics of what’s happening with this particular well application are being caught up in the larger issue between the state and counties,” Corrigan said. “And unfortunately, the specific issues of what’s happening in Milner seem to be less important.”
Corrigan said he doesn’t think every drilling pad would require a water-quality monitoring well, but he thinks that in the case of the Camilletti well, with its close proximity to Milner, such monitoring is justified. He said he would have voted with the commissioners.
“I support oil and gas development with reasonable measures to protect the environment,” Corrigan said.
He added that if he were to criticize the commissioners for the way they handled the Quicksilver application, it would be for not getting their water and air quality consultants involved sooner.
“It would have been beneficial if we could have settled that issue a couple of months ago,” he said. “At a certain point, the developers deserved a decision, and it could have been arrived at, at an earlier date.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com