Our View: Oil, gas views help voters decide in election

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Editorial Board, August through January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Shannon Lukens, community representative
  • Scott Ford, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

This fall’s election of two of the three seats on the Routt County Board of Commissioners provides residents with the rare opportunity not only to have choices when it comes to who will represent them in county government but also to have one of the most significant issues of the past decade define and differentiate the candidates seeking office.

With early voting beginning in less than two months, it’s time voters heard clear stances from the candidates on oil and gas regulation and how they would proceed if elected.

Few, if any, issues faced by county commissioners in recent memory have taken on the weight of oil and gas development here. It’s by no means a stretch to suggest that the county’s approach to industry regulation in the months to come could have a significant long-term impact on the Yampa Valley, economically and environmentally.

While we’ve generally been supportive of the current commissioners’ deliberate dealings with companies like Quicksilver Resources and Shell Oil, we know that opinion isn’t shared by all. The recent formation of a group of residents calling itself Citizens Supporting Property Rights underscores that point. The group of Routt County residents is urging the commissioners to consider carefully the personal property rights of residents who could benefit economically from leasing their mineral rights.

It’s easy to empathize with Citizens Supporting Property Rights, which argues that responsible extraction of subsurface minerals would add significantly to the local tax base as well as provide potentially lucrative monthly payments for affected property owners.

Energy development is a complex issue with passionate advocates on all sides, and it’s an issue that’s not going away anytime soon. That’s why it’s so important that voters understand exactly where county commissioner candidates stand on this issue.

Incumbent Doug Monger, a Democrat, has made his views relatively clear. It’s time for Republican challenger Tina Kyprios to do the same. Same goes for Moose Barrows and Tim Corrigan, the men squaring off for Nancy Stahoviak’s District 1 commissioner seat.

All four candidates attended a private meeting of Citizens Supporting Property Rights last week. All four now should be unequivocal — and on the public record — in what specific action they would take as commissioner in dealings with the energy industry.

It’s exciting and rare that Routt County voters have two contested races for county commissioner. It’s even better that this year’s election can be decided on an issue of significant importance.

Comments

Fred Duckels 1 year, 7 months ago

Remember when affordable housing and "caring" composed the litmus test for candidates? Now if a candidate supports drilling will they be equated to all things bad? I think that each hopeful must present their views in the manner that suits them best. It is not the job of this paper to set the parameters.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

Where are the excessive regulations that are either driving out drillers? The affordable housing issue was obviously flawed at the time because of the silly economic presumptions of SB's regulations. Not just that prices could only increase, but that there could be affordable units mixed among million dollar units. But Routt County's rules seem fair to the oil and gas industry.

Shell Oil which could afford to spend far more money on a legal fight than Routt County has had no problems with the local regulations.

Shell Oil has not gone soft, but is merely following best practices advocated by the oil and gas industry group. Those big players that want to be in the business for the long term know that incidents causing environmental damage including groundwater contamination is what will cause the public to create more onerous regulations. So Shell has no problems with a couple of groundwater monitoring wells because in the rare event that there is an issue then at least it can be addressed before it affects someone's drinking water.

The only controversy is Quicksilver that wants first detection of groundwater contamination to be when it is found in a community's drinking wells. I think if that were put to a public referendum then Quicksilver would lose badly.

I'd be interested in what the property rights group would want to change with Routt County's regulations. Most property owners would not like to discover their neighbor's activities had contaminated their groundwater only when it was detected in their drinking well.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 7 months ago

Fred, The candidates shouldn't have to address the O&G questions? Obviously 50 ranchers disagree with you right out of the gate. Their group put this front and center getting candidates to speak on this issue. Of course the Pilot should do the same.

Scott, You nailed it. The bright line question that says it all, "What would you change in Routt's O&G regulations?"

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John Weibel 1 year, 7 months ago

--I'd be interested in what the property rights group would want to change with Routt County's regulations. Most property owners would not like to discover their neighbor's activities had contaminated their groundwater only when it was detected in their drinking well.--

That is the thing about many wanting to exercise there property rights however they feel they should be able to. What happens to the neighbors private property rights to clean air and water? Should those not be equally protected, I think so.

I do not see how any reasonable individual would disagree with the arguments for the groundwater protections enacted by the commissioners. The exception would be those that would be penalized from sloppy work and those in their pockets.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 7 months ago

The property rights issue is misleading, the problem is the myriad of political tools used to thwart drilling. Steve has been all over the map since drilling has come to the forerfront. For now a monitoring well would be nice but this is only the camels nose under the tent. More local control is the goal allowing mischief that would not be tolerated at a higher level. This property rights group is decades behind the Community Alliance and they face a real uphill climb. The Sage Grouse is just one example of planning. This bird's home covers many states and is a natural to use as a political tool against unwanted projects. We have the Prebles Mouse that offers the opportunity for a lawsuit and intimidation of the public. The list goes on and on, and working folks have not the time or motive to become Philadelphia lawyers.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 7 months ago

Fred, You could use more respect in your views. Your central argument is that some of your neighbors cannot be trusted. It is surprising to read such disrespect could be offered as pure fiction, but that seems to be your craft.

You recently wrote folks supporting regulation have a "quest to eliminate fossil fuels". From this and similar erroneous viewpoints, you reject that a conversation about water quality is actually a conversation about water quality, or that a conversation about air quality is really about air quality. You insist these, including the Sage Grouse, are a ruse meant instead to thwart the drillers as we drive them away.

The facts present a more respectful treatment of these topics, and accurately present the impacts of your neighbors’ engagement:

Matt Holman from Shell Oil spoke during his recent Routt drilling applications and fully embraced Routt's measures on water, air, and Sage Grouse. He insisted his corporate goals suggest the same approach, and referred to the parallels of corporate and county goals at many points.

The Pilot reports more than a dozen new Routt well applications are expected in the next year.

So Fred, try to stop writing fiction. And try to learn some respect - people mean what they write and say. Your craft of reinventing the intentions of others only exhibits your shallow estimation of others, and nothing more.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

The fastest way for drilling to be shut down in Routt County would be if drilling permits ignored the Endangered Species Act when approving permits. Then just about anyone could sue and tie things up in court for years.

The reality is that Routt County government is about as friendly to drilling as it can be without risking lawsuits. Even if people agree with Quicksilver and don't want any monitoring wells then the people of Milner could have sued based upon the state oil and gas commission losing public comments from Routt County and thus failing to correctly follow the approval process.

I can see a reason for the property rights group to organize and be prepared for any possible future onerous regulations, but I suggest the current regulations are as friendly for drilling as they are going to get without risking lawsuits.

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree with Steve, Fred. To think that you don't trust some of your neighbors... Hmmmm I think the neighbors in question can be trusted completely... I think you, Fred, can count on them to stick it to you EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I, for one, plead gulity of the charges Steve has leveled against Fred. I do not believe that many of those who claim to fight for clean water are concerned with water alone. I do not believe that many of those who claim to fight for air quality are fighting for air quality alone.

I absolutely believe that MANY who claim to fight for the Sage Grouse, clean water and clean air, are actually trying to restrict oil production. Thje reason I believe this is because air, water and sage grouse are all better off than they were years ago and yet these folks still wont shut up! That proves they are not focused on air, water or grouse. They want to raise the cost of fossil fuel to make "green energy" look more affordable.

So far as "respect" is concerned, I would echo what Fredrich Bastiat said a few hundred years ago: If laws {or the men who impose them] are to be respected, then laws musr be respectable. Keep acting like manipulative chicken littles and you will keep wondering why you get no respect.

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John Weibel 1 year, 7 months ago

Mark. Air quality in rural areas where drilling is occurring is worse today in the past. Some areas are in violation of federal ozone standards.

Water quality is better in cities but does face challenges elsewhere. The dead zone in the gulf of Mexico is a fine example of an external cost that needs to be internalized in industrial ag to ensure a free market which batiste speaks of.

The sage grouse is a topic I think the yahoo's in dc, sf or any other city hav zero understanding of the relationships they have with ruminants.

I figure within 20 years 90% of energy will not be from oil or coal with recent advances in noble gas generators and other new technologies. The biggest thing keeping these technologies from commercialization is the investments in oil and other "fossil" fuels

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

Well, if we are allowed to assume that laws do not mean what they say, but have hidden secret agendas then anything is possible. Someone could dream up scenarios where Mark and Fred benefit from neighboring properties and communities with polluted groundwater.

Sure, any law could just be the first step to tyranny. That is why it is worthwhile to be ever vigilant. But ever vigilant does not justify ever paranoid with conspiracy theories contrary to current practices.

Quick internet search suggests that sage grouse is not doing better than they were years ago. Population 16 million 100 years ago is estimated to be 200,000 today due primarily to loss of habitat. Maybe they are doing well here, but then Routt County could say that is because they have been actively preserving it's habitat.

It is a candidate to be an official endangered species and if that were to happen then county's rules will seem like nothing. Best way to shut down drilling with years of lawsuits would be to make no effort to protect sage grouse habitat.

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

It is not a "conspiracy theory" to state that there are significant numbers among the fossil fuel opposition who pound on ANY and EVERY excuse they can muster. IT IS A FACT.

Yes, John, perhaps air quality is not perfect where drilling operations occur. I'll give you that. But air quality is far from perfect behind your car, on a construction site with concrete trucks idling, in a rail yard, etc.

I would also be willing to bet that air quality adjacent to solar panel, wind turbine and geo-thermal manufacturing plants leaves a bit to be desired too.

So we can split hairs or admit the broader reality: Air, water and grouse are GENERALLY better now than they were and environmentalists are GENERALLY loathe to admit that because such does not help their GENERAL policy of conversion to green energy at almost any cost.

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

And BTW Scott, You benifit from oil and gas production too.

Even though you may wish for different standards you are still benefiting from todays price which reflects the so-called lack of environmentally friendly production methods.

Until you start some sort of fund for your percentage of the damage we are ALL causing (which I'm willing to bet you have and will not), you are just as much a beneficiary of todays standards as those who happily accept todays standards.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

The county is approving requests for drilling. The added costs of a monitoring well is almost nothing compared to the project's overall costs. The cost of a drilling a few hundred foot well is small potatoes compared to drilling a 7,000 foot well. And there are all the costs of the wellhead processing equipment and so on. I just do not see what factual basis there is to complain about Routt County's current regulations.

As for the sage grouse, as a rural county then they might be doing well here, but they are being squeezed near urban areas and they are no longer found in many states which they were once numerous.

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kathy foos 1 year, 7 months ago

"Methane making an appearance in Pennsylvania water supply",written on Aug.28,2012 ,by Scott Detrow.This story is part of the State Impact Pennsylvania Project.State Impact is a collaboration between NPR and member stations examining the effect of state policy on peoples lives.

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

Check out the NPR story of what happens to countries that don't have reliable electricity. The worlds largest black-out happened as a result. It was in India. It was on NPR yesterday morning. Very interesting. That's where we're headed if we don't wise up.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

From the America's Natural Gas Alliance, a nat gas producer group, website which may help explain why Shell Oil and other responsible drillers have had no problems with Routt County regulations:

Natural gas companies understand that with this opportunity comes the responsibility to be dedicated stewards of local land, air and water. We are committed to helping communities where we conduct our operations understand the proven, scientific safeguards and vigilant regulatory oversight that is in place today to help ensure that natural gas continues to be produced in harmony with the local environment.

Communities should not have to choose between advancing their economic interests and safeguarding their natural resources. With responsible natural gas production, our nation can advance both priorities together.

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

The question is whether we will insist on perfection; and then, having made that the enemy of the good, effectively prohibit exploitation of resources.

"Clean water" & "clean air" are relative terms. What standards will be applied? Perfection which shuts everything down and sends more and more jobs overseas or a trade-off that allows society to function in a modern way?

I seriously recommend people look into these NPR reports about what's happening in India. Life without electricity, even with random electricity is not good, especially for the poorest among us. getthttp://www.npr.org/2012/09/04/160523412/generators-power-through-indias-blackouts http://www.npr.org/2012/08/01/157721798/indias-blackout-in-the-dark-about-being-in-the-dark

Look into how the use of generators there is so prevelant that the pollution from them is many-fold worse than from power plants. See how the noise and pollution is causing problems. Think whistling past the graveyard of America's inadequate electric supply is good? Wrong. Think all nations with natural resources prosper? Wrong- look at Africa- rich in natural resources but still a basket case. It can happen here if we don't wise up.

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John Weibel 1 year, 7 months ago

Mark,

Yes there are trade offs. Yes the amount of pollution is down in areas, though in rural areas they are up, just because you don't see it here it is a problem.

Putting a well every 80 acres would have a large negative impact on the counties tourism industry, if pollution was worse than in Denver.

It is all black and white to you, those wells need to try hard to internalize their costs of production so that others do not feel the negative impacts from their existence. I also believe we are on the cusp of a breakthrough in energy production the will alter the world for the better. So while we are here today and need oil, gas and more so coal (which does a very good job of internalizing costs of production) - we need to be aware of the impacts we are having on the whole, for future generations. Much like the hole government is digging for our great grandchildren with debt we need to be aware of the impacts that oil and gas production will have.

The biggest thing we could do to reduce petro chemical demand would be to throw out ag subsidies. This would accelerate the return to local food sheds, reduce fertilizer application causing the dead zones in our oceans and much to your dismay probably increase food production as many local ag producers like to stack enterprises, use chickens as fly control which reduces feed needs for chickens. Graze sheep behind cows as the are dead end parasite hosts for each other. Use fruit trees between pastures to provide shade and shelter while adding another staple to production.

So while energy consumption has led us here a reduction in energy consumption might lead us to yet a higher quality of life, reduced government debt spending. It would also be a plus for jobs as for every 1 industrial ag job that is shed you create three in a local ag model. Properly done you can actually make a good living. The problem in routt county is the consumer base which needs enlarged through exporting product out of the valley but not through conventional channels.

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Harry Thompson 1 year, 7 months ago

As usual the Pilot has an opinion and no real story. In the journalism profession it is referred to as investigative jouralism. So if the Pilot & Today would like to know something about the candidates stance on an issue, my suggestion would be to go their websites.

If the investigative reporters at the Pilot & Today can not find the appropriate website, please contact me through this forum and I will forward them.

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Brent Boyer 1 year, 7 months ago

Harry, Thanks for your feedback. We're aware of the candidates' websites. Unfortunately, they reveal little about what each would actually do as commissioner when it comes to oil and gas development. Instead, we see a lot of platitudes about energy independence, environmental stewardship, etc. Our editorial simply sought to urge candidates to be crystal clear in how they would act, as commissioner, in regards to energy development here. Do they support the county's actions to date? Would they attempt to overturn any or all of the conditions enacted by the current commissioners? Which ones and why? What do they think the role of the county is vis-a-vis the authority of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission? Tina does the best job of providing a little bit of depth on her stance (http://kyprios4change.com/issues/oil_and_gas), but not enough. Moose doesn't mention anything about oil and gas (http://moosebarrows.com/home), and Tim writes in rather vague generalities (http://votetimcorrigan.com/Why_Tim_Is_Running.html). The newspaper certainly will be questioning the candidates on this issue in the weeks to come, and that information will be shared with the community. The Editorial Board wanted to urge the candidates to be loud and clear, early and often, because seldom has there been an issue as significant at the county level as oil and gas development, particularly in the midst of an election cycle.

Brent

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

John, I totally agree that ag subsidies should be eliminated. I also agree that the true cost of oil production should be reflected in it's price.

However, I also think that policy should transcend oil production. How 'bout having the true cost of EVERYTHING internalized? Like the welfare moms spittin out kids like Pez dispensers- Like college education.. or elementary education for that matter? I don't have kids; why am I being charged for schools? Especially schools turning out kids that can't make change for a twenty? (I already know the answer, I'm just making a point)

As far as who grazes what behind what and where, I think those are decisions to be made by the individuals who own the cattle/ sheep, not policy-wonks in DC, Denver or even Main St, Routt county. In other words... the free market.

I don't know why you say it would be to my dismay to see an increase in food production. I think it would be fantastic! But I also don't think Routt County is capable of producing enough food to feed itself. (I've taken a real liking to bananas lately and I'm pretty sure I can't grow 'em here) In fact, I think it foolish to attempt to produce food efficiently in a place where the growing season is less than 60 days. In my opinion, it's much smarter to sell our coal and oil and ski slopes to the folks in Florida and get our food from them in return. However, just like the cattle grazing issue, I think that too should be left to market forces to dictate. In fact most people agree with that, since the market here for food is weak and coal is strong. The market decided years ago what was economical, but more importantly and a point tha so many seem to miss is that the market decides EVERY DAY whether a change to more food production at the expense of coal is prudent or not. The market reacts and changes to new and differing demands with every tick of the clock... and it's never wrong, at least until the government cooks spoil the damn stew with their meddling.

This leads to my final point. As you say, I do indeed think many things are "black or white". That is to say right or wrong sensible or foolish, prudent or imprudent, economical or wasteful.

Economics is a trade-off. There is never enough of everything. Scarcity dictates that humans must constantly decide when to stop caring about one specific item and fiocus on another. For example, if we have all the school books we could possibly want it must come at the expense of too few school buses, too few teachers, or crossing guards. We live in a world of scarcity. Oil, coal and the energy they provide alleviates some of that pain. But so does clean air and water. So does sonw white peaks and healthy environments. We need them all. To focus only one at the total disregard of the other is foolish, no matter which end of the spectrum we personally favor.

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John Weibel 1 year, 7 months ago

The growing season for produce is 60 days (really less), the growing season for grass is longer. Producing food efficiently means matching your environment and going after the low hanging fruit first. That would be expanded production in root crops, spinach, kale, dairy products (seasonally as they can be stored as cheese), wheat, meats etc. and trade for the rest - using some form of monetary system.

The thing about the cost of production versus shipping something in, at some point the marginal cost of shipping exceeds the marginal cost of heating a structure to grow the products that one would like here. That tipping point has probably been passed if one gets creative and uses waste heat from the power company and/or hydronic geothermal heat sources. Personally I will soon be looking into a way of growing grass indoors in the winter to supplement my livestock.

I understand the whole economic game, energy is getting relatively expensive in the US these days, more akin to what it used to cost. In one country they still run wood fired steam trains because that is the natural resource they have to use as importing oil would cause their financial ruin.

Unfortunately the current banking system has caused a primary distortion to any free market and causes the misallocation of capital. Throw in government intervention and you have one system that does not even come close to resembling a free market. Yet the free market is ripped for all the excess, that corporatism has brought us.

Peace and as I stated, I believe that there will be a revolutionary discovery in the energy field that will render this moot. I believe that it might have been made and if what I have read is correct it is slowly (maybe a little faster) heading to production. Though it still uses raw materials, so will still have to participate in the marketplace for ones economic attention.

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