Candidates quizzed on energy exploration, property rights | SteamboatToday.com

Candidates quizzed on energy exploration, property rights

— Property rights were the underlying theme Monday night as a crowd of 66 people gathered at The Haven in Hayden to listen as candidates for state House District 26 and Senate District 8 fielded questions about energy exploration in Routt County.

The candidates forum was the second in a series hosted by a recently formed organization called Citizens Supporting Property Rights. On Monday, the candidates fielded questions including, "How do you see oil and gas affecting local tax revenues?" and "How would you facilitate statewide commerce in the oil and gas industry when local governments are creating their own regulations with a knee-jerk reaction?"

Attending the forum were Republican Chuck McConnell and Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, who are running to represent Routt and Eagle counties in the new House District 26. Also fielding questions were candidates for Senate District 8, Republican Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs and Democrat Emily Tracy of Breckenridge. They seek to represent a district comprising seven counties, including Routt.

Citizens Supporting Property Rights was organized by county residents who want to be able to responsibly develop the mineral rights on their land.

Baumgardner, completing his term as a state representative from House District 57, told the gathering that he thinks people who own subsurface mineral rights have a right to see those minerals developed.

"If you work a deal with an oil company to get the energy out of the ground, you should have the right to do that," he said. "There needs to be some work done to where everybody's voice is heard. But the bottom line is, it's your property. You want to work the deal with the oil company — it's your minerals. For somebody to say you (can't), it's wrong."

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Tracy, who has worked in state government and served the past six years on the Summit County Planning Commission, said property rights are both diverse and complex.

"Property, like our homes, is governed by building codes and planning codes," she said. "Water rights are property rights. If anyone here thinks water law is simple in terms of how those property rights play out — they're not simple. We always have to keep balance in mind. There's no one answer. We have to make our property rights fit into the property rights of our society."

McConnell drew applause from the audience with a succinct summation of his stand: "Mineral rights — that is a property. The founding fathers determined that property rights are a first principle of liberty and I just don't want to give that up."

Mitsch Bush, who has voted to approve permit applications for new oil wells in her current role as a Routt County commissioner, reminded the audience that four well permits have been approved in the past 12 months or so, and none were ultimately turned down.

The commissioners approved a set of conditions that can be applied to any oil and gas permit application here. Those conditions have caught the ire of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and energy company Quicksilver Resources. Shell Oil, on the other hand, has said it has no problems with the additional conditions in Routt County. The COGCC has sued the city of Longmont for its regulations on energy exploration, saying the city is overstepping the authority of the state.

"As your elected official I have to consider the property rights of others who don't have minerals, whether it has to do with hunting, fishing, a guide outfitters, whatever it might be," Mitsch Bush said.

In response to the question about “knee-jerk reactions” from local governments, Mitsch Bush said she sees an inherent conflict between state and local governments in current laws dealing with energy exploration.

"The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (has regulatory control over) things like the bore hole and the well pad site," she said. "We also have the counties whose role is to balance that with local land-use regulations. It sets up a conflict. I think it's really, really important at the county level to protect property rights, our land and our water."

McConnell, who formerly worked as a chemical engineer in the oil refining industry, countered that the COGCC has put together a set of rules for hydraulic fracturing of wells, for example, that he said are among the strictest in the nation.

"We just cannot have 64 sets of rules, one for each county in the state of Colorado when the state and the COGCC has put together a set of rules that are considered to be first class, state of the art," McConnell said. "The science of fracturing is well settled. I don't see a need for diverse sets of rules from our counties."

Baumgardner, a Middle Park rancher, agreed with McConnell, saying that to allow each county in Colorado to develop its own set of rules governing the oil and gas industry would serve as a deterrent to business.

"To have 64 different sets of rules and regulations on top of the existing state rules, it almost makes it impossible for businesses to stay here in the state. It just does not make sense," Baumgardner said.

However, Tracy said her own experience at the state level taught her that it's critical to preserve the voice of Coloradans at the local level.

"I worked for the state. I want government to work better. It doesn't always work well," she said. "Earlier this year, the COGCC created a working group to (collaborate) with local governments on (oil well/private property) setback regulations. As long as that goes well, that's great. We should never want to give up our local control on issues like this."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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