For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: County right on oil well

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— By refusing to kowtow Tuesday night to a heavy-handed attempt by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to have water-quality monitoring requirements dropped from an oil well permit for Quicksilver Resources, the Routt County Board of Commissioners exemplified how government closest to the people governs best.

First, a bit of history.

For upwards of a year now, Quicksilver Resources has been battling with Routt County officials about environmental concerns arising from Quicksilver’s desire to drill an exploratory oil well on the Camilletti Ranch near Milner. The exploratory well could lead to additional oil wells being drilled on the ranch.

The proposed oil well is up the water gradient one mile from dozens of domestic water wells in Milner. Because of the up-gradient relationship between the oil well site and the water wells, the county commissioners are concerned about the possibility of contaminating Milner’s water supply.

After months of wrangling and eventually reaching agreement on more than 60 other conditions of approval, Quicksilver and the county commissioners remained at loggerheads about the commissioners’ demand for water-quality monitoring — monitoring that Quicksilver argued was above and beyond state regulations. Further, Quicksilver argued the negotiations with Routt County had been unreasonably drawn out and that Quicksilver had been subjected to an ever-changing, ever-increasing set of conditions for approval.

As tensions between the county commissioners and Quicksilver mounted, push eventually did come to shove. On June 26, Quicksilver indicated it was prepared to end negotiations with Routt County and call upon the Oil and Gas Commission to overrule the county’s demands.

On Tuesday, just an hour before the first and only meeting since Quicksilver called foul, the Oil and Gas Commission dropped an email on the county commissioners indicating that if the county commissioners required Quicksilver to implement a water-quality monitoring program, they would be violating the Oil and Gas Commission’s authority.

Routt County Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak, Doug Monger and Diane Mitsch Bush didn’t blink. In fact, the county commissioners fired back at the Oil and Gas Commission with a charge of failure to protect the citizens of Colorado.

“We’ve been told we have an oil and gas commission that is putting stringent requirements on oil and gas operations. It simply is not true,” Stahoviak said. “Protecting our water quality is a local concern. The (Oil and Gas Commission) has not helped us protect the water (wells) of Milner, which is why we are having to do it.”

As those words crossed the lips of Stahoviak, every right-thinking resident of Routt County should have cheered. Why? Because government closest to the people governs best.

That doesn’t mean Stahoviak, Monger and Mitsch Bush are correct in their decision. That’s not the issue. What matters is that the government body with authority for any decision should be as close as possible to the locale that will be impacted by the decision.

The freedom to live as we choose is best attained when we keep most government decisions as close to home as possible. We stand a better chance of exercising self-determination with our local government officials who are, by necessity and design, far more responsive to the character of our immediate community than officials and bureaucrats in Denver or Washington, D.C.

If a majority of local residents conclude the county commissioners are wrong in their approach to oil and gas development, those voters can impact the commissioners’ approach in many ways — up to electing commissioners more aligned with the demands of the oil and gas industry. That ability to quickly impact specific public policies is heavily diluted as you move up the government ladder.

In the end, the county commissioners might have prevailed in one battle of a war they eventually lose. Nonetheless, the citizens of Routt County should be proud that the commissioners are fighting for local self-determination. After all, self-determination is the birthright of Americans.

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 9 months ago

While there is a chance that there is a possibility that the County could be overruled by the state on these conditions, I doubt the County will lose the war.

This is a political disaster for the drilling industry. Now there are faces to put in an ad of a driller that claims a test well is an onerous burden. Now there is a face of the head of the state Oil & Gas Commission threatening county commissioners whom just want any contamination detected before it reaches residential wells.

How long before Greenpeace creates an ad showing a guy lighting tap water on fire and says the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission believes there should be no water testing before this happens to you. And that state commission went to court to overrule the county government that tried to require a solitary test well between the fracking site and the downhill community of Milner.

Who wants to be against a solitary test well and instead listen to a discussion that the nat gas well should detect any leak. No one in elected official would want to try to describe to the electorate how pressure readings at the nat gas well is as reliable a way of detecting contamination as a nearby well sampling water.

And when Shell Oil becomes the good guy willing to have water testing near their drilling operations not that close to a community then that makes the problems of Quicksilver and the state commission that much more apparent.

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Jack Gutschenritter 1 year, 9 months ago

Good article Rob. I am proud of our county commissioners for taking their responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of their constituents. There have been HUNDREDS of cases of ground water contamination due to fracking. Mr. Lindsey of Quicksilver lied when he stated that there have been no verifiable cases of contamination. When fracking first was introduced, this problem became known. One case is documented and the oil company involved lost. This was in the 1980s. The whole industry gave a big "Ah-ooh, we have a problem". Their lawyers changed tactics immediately to always settle these suits and have the evidence sealed from public scrutiny. Literally hundreds of cases of ground water contamination have since been settled. Millions of dollars in settlement paid out. It is a despicable practice to knowingly hide the evidence from the public.

My only wish is that the commissioners would simply say "NO" to all fracking. The process is nowhere near a six sigma process... which it should be if results can be non-reversible pollution and death. The oil industry is a child playing with a loaded gun.

A monitoring well catches the damage after it has occurred. The damage is irreversible. What good is that?

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 9 months ago

Jack, The monitoring well identifies the contamination before Milner residents are drinking it. It would also make for an earlier shutdown and mitigation of the polluting well. The contaminated groundwater could take additional years to travel the remaining distance to Milner, and without this monitoring well we would have those extra years of groundwater pollution to mitigate.

I suspect in that unhappy event, a large water well "up gradient" of Milner would be placed to pull groundwater to itself (for treatment and disposal) and away from Milner's domestic water wells. It may prove futile as a protection of Milner's water, it may not.

In terms of their property values, it would be futile.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 9 months ago

Rob, You back away from your title, unwilling to agree the Commissioners were correct in this decision. And that was not even the issue? Do you feel proximity of a decision trumps the actual merits of the decision? Perhaps a better title for your arguments above would be "The Commissioners Are Always Right". It seems you are choosing ideology over merit. The result is I know you are still a Libertarian, but I don't know where you stand on air and water quality, in relation to these wells.

BTW, the past year is better described as a time of County education about this industry, the laws and the impacts, rather than an ongoing argument with Quicksilver. Quicksilver was actually supportive of the process and the time taken. At least they were before their lease schedules became a factor. Part of the delay on this well was Quicksilver's request to insert another, the Pirtlaw Well, into the agenda in its place earlier this year.

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mark hartless 1 year, 9 months ago

You can't win with Lewi, Rob. Don't lose any sleep over that fact. He doesn't want any allies that might go off the reservation on some issue in the future and start thinking for themselves.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 9 months ago

Mark, On the contrary, I'm asking what Rob's thinking is, on this well.

Title: "County right on oil well." Text: "That doesn’t mean Stahoviak, Monger and Mitsch Bush are correct in their decision."

What does that mean?

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Eric J. Bowman 1 year, 9 months ago

"He doesn't want any allies that might go off the reservation on some issue in the future and start thinking for themselves."

Still wondering if you have anything to contribute here besides ad-hominem attacks on those you disagree with, Mark...

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mark hartless 1 year, 9 months ago

You said that you were "putting me on 'ignore' ", Eric. I can live with that if you can do it.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 9 months ago

Quicksilver gave up an arm in this deal, will the next permittee be required to give an arm and a leg as has been the MO on gravel pits? Steve will take all that he can get and his probable goal is elimination of all wells.

Gravel pits went down this slide, and now in order to get a permit it is necessary to set aside development rights, acre for acre for permits exceeding 10 acres. This was a morsel to satisfy the Community Alliance. I inquired under the Freedom Of Information Act and got zilch on how this happened without input at least from gravel operators. This invites mucho speculation on motives and propriety.

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