Routt County fires back at state over drilling permit process


Oil & gas issues in Routt County

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners fired back Tuesday with a response to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Thom Kerr insisting that it, not his agency, is best suited to limit potential impacts to natural resources and public health that might result from the drilling of exploratory oil wells.

“We understand that COGCC is woefully understaffed and underfunded and may have difficulty dealing with permit applications while also addressing concerns of local government,” the commissioners wrote. “Those issues aside, Routt County expects more. Thus, we feel that we, as the Board of County Commissioners, are in the best position to attempt to effectively mitigate impacts to our natural resources, public health and the environment where and when allowed. That is what we consider to be responsible.”

Tuesday’s letter was in response to a July 10 letter from Kerr cautioning the county commissioners that they would be usurping his agency’s statutory authority if they attached their own water-quality testing conditions to an approval of a permit allowing Quicksilver Resources to drill an oil well near Milner.

The commissioners went ahead and approved Quicksilver’s permit with the requirement that the company drill a water-quality monitoring well despite the objections of the applicant, which insisted the state process takes precedence in those matters. The Oil and Gas Commission took the position that proper casing of the well bore would be sufficient to protect groundwater.

Kerr had urged the county commissioners to interact with the Oil and Gas Commission’s own permitting process through a local government designee. In the case of Routt County, that local designee is county planner Chris Brookshire, who analyzes and processes oil and gas permits.

Brookshire informed the Oil and Gas Commission in writing that the county wanted to impose conditions protecting air and water quality on the Quicksilver application because of the close proximity of 39 domestic water wells and residences in Milner.

In the county commissioners’ view, Brookshire’s efforts were disregarded. During a meeting with legal staff, Brookshire and Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips on Tuesday pointed out that the Oil and Gas Commission has not followed through on promises of training sessions for local government designees and characterized Kerr’s entreaties that they work collaboratively through the local government designee process as being hollow and in some ways unrealistic, given the short time frames to respond to new state well permits.

“They talk about all this kumbaya, wonderful cooperation between the COGCC and the LGD when in fact, the comments (Brookshire) provided in writing were not included” in the Oil and Gas Commission’s findings on the Quicksilver proposal, Mitsch Bush said. “They were not considered at all. That, to me, does not look like cooperation.”

Commissioner Doug Monger agreed, saying, “There was no notification that our comments weren’t accepted and that we need to appeal.”

Mitsch Bush called the local government designee process “disingenuous” and added that the 10 days the county is allowed to appeal its concerns to the Oil and Gas Commission are unrealistic and out of sequence. She said they would require Routt to make its case in advance of fully studying energy companies’ permit applications at the county level and before it could discover pertinent issues through the public hearing process.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Routt County would not relinquish its authority to review permit applications under the umbrella of land-use policy issues.

“We’re not going to do anything with our special-use permit process,” Stahoviak said. “That’s just not going to happen. We’re going to add on water- and air-quality conditions. And during the process, other issues may come up. The bottom line is, we shouldn’t have to submit every condition we’re going to apply (to oil drilling permits) to the COGCC.”

As a result of Tuesday’s meeting, assistant county attorney Erick Knaus said he would rewrite the county’s statements on air and water quality to be used on correspondence with the Oil and Gas Commission and make the statements more specific. Brookshire will research what procedures the county needs to follow to exercise its right to seek the involvement of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment when it thinks air and water quality are threatened by specific oil and gas well permit applications.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


David Carrick 4 years, 9 months ago

I congratulate the Commissioners on standing tall in their efforts to maintain a greater level of local control in such matters, rather than just bowing in submission to out of touch Front Range nere-do-wells. As just an outside observer, however, I would say that perhaps now would be a good time to look ahead and come to some sort of consensus on what those permitting conditions may be generally. It just appeared to my eyes, over the several months of this permitting effort by Quicksilver, that the Commissioners dragged their feet, changed thought processes, brainstormed (slowly daydreamed?) potential permitting conditions, and so forth, often enough that it seemed that the job had no chance of ever getting done...perhaps even that the hopeful goal was that Quicksilver would drop their quest altogether. Again, do the general consensus work now, before you are flooded with more applications, and it will go a long way toward being able to have real cooperation. That is what you want, isn't it...a true cooperative effort? Sometimes one has to wonder!


Steve Lewis 4 years, 9 months ago

David, I believe the general conditions you speak of are now largely in place.

You are right, this process over the past months has required patience. We found ourselves a year ago with a thin set of regulations and a wave of information about possible harm. It has been a process of ramping up the regulations.

Part of that involved visits from COGCC and CDPHE officials, consultant inputs, and a working group of local citizens. The result is a set of O&G conditions that are 95% complete.

We've seen delays before on other fronts in Steamboat. We spent extra time on Big Box (ultimately setting suitable locations), on affordable housing, demolition of the Harbour Hotel, historic preservation, annexation, etc. Not all of these were popular. In some cases a moratorium was used. For oil and gas, other Colorado jurisdictions recently used moratoriums while regulations were increased. We opted to avoid that.

I think Routt County has done a good job looking after its interests.


Dan Hill 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm generally suspicious of this sort of local action as NIMBYism (Oh no we don't want oil and gas drilling. Yes we still want to consume oil and gas).

In this case the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission is so clearly unwilling and incapable of discharging its responsiblities to ensure that drilling does not affect the health and safety of Colorado's citizens that the County had no choice but to act. I think they got the balance right. Quicksilver have whined about the delays but they could easily have approached this in a positive manner from day 1 - "of course, there are wells close by, so let's put in a monitoring station..."

I don't say this often, but this is actually local government at its best.


Mark Crough 4 years, 9 months ago

Studying and reporting on the adverse impacts of hydraulic fracturing has been woefully inadequate. Families and businesses locating themselves within the shale regions of America need only look to the play in the Barnett Shale region of TX or nearby in Garfield County where studies have noted the negative consequences to public health brought on by the practice of hydraulic fracturing/unconventional drilling. A marked spike in breast cancer rates alone should provoke outcry but the industry has sequestered such data remarkably well.

The County Commissioners of Colorado are charged with the responsibility of being caretakers of the populations and stewards of the living environment that houses their families, businesses and community organizations. How prosperous does Routt Co. remain if it's living environs are permanently polluted and its tourism, agriculture and recreational industries decimated?

At some point, public officials in Weld and Garfield Counties will be held criminally and civilly responsible for their misdeeds as the narrative begins to include overdue investigative journalism. You can't poison an entire county and slink away into oblivion as if a witness protection plan in South America awaits you as reward for assisted fratricide. None of these Commissioners are evil beings, they're simply swept up in the tide we label as "progress" even though the profits of such are flowing to Wall Street as the fuel is ported overseas to power international manufacturing, of all things.

You're being "FRACKED" so investors, producers and overseas consumers of the O&G under your feet can get their due.


You can't be both a patriot and a stocked trout.


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