House District 26 candidates spar over importance of oil and gas to economy |

House District 26 candidates spar over importance of oil and gas to economy

— Some candidates for Routt County commissioner and Colorado House District 26 think issues surrounding oil and gas permitting in Routt County have largely been resolved. But it was a difficult topic to leave behind Wednesday when nearly 50 people showed up at 7 a.m. for the Steamboat Pilot & Today's monthly Coffee and a Newspaper community gathering.

Chuck McConnell, the Republican candidate for House District 26 representing Routt and Eagle counties, called energy exploration the best means of giving the local economy a booster shot that would yield immediate results.

"The economy here needs help right now — today,” he said. “The bright line of distinction between my opponent (Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush) and I is oil and gas in Routt County. (Oil and gas development) creates jobs today, and not $7.25 jobs. These are high-paying jobs."

Mitsch Bush, a current member of the Routt County Board of Commissioners, countered that over the long term, Routt would be well served to focus its support on small-business owners.

"Our research and experience show small businesses are the job creators," Mitsch Bush said. "They stay, they use services, so there's that multiplier effect."

McConnell said energy workers buy pickups here, rent homes and frequent restaurants. Mitsch Bush said oil-drilling rigs require crews of 12 to 24 people who move on after six to eight weeks.

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Tim Corrigan, the Democratic candidate for the Board of Commissioner’s District 1 seat, said the challenge facing the next group of commissioners will be to focus more on the social and economic impacts of energy exploration than on the process of permitting wells.

"I think we're pretty close to the point that most of the questions (about permitting wells) have been agreed on. I support the action the commissioners have taken to date," Corrigan said.

His Republican opponent, Jim "Moose" Barrows, called the oil and gas industry the "crisis du jour for Routt County."

"We have people who have property rights they've been invested in for many, many years. These are real assets that accumulated in the world of freedom in the U.S. These are things people are counting on," Barrows said.

Corrigan said he is relatively unconcerned about any danger to the environment as a result of fracking wells and thinks the energy industry would be good for the local economy. He also said he supported the commissioners’ insistence on a water-quality monitoring well at the Camilletti well close to domestic water wells in Milner.

Barrows said "new types of special-interest groups" that have different motivations than people in rural areas and smaller towns in the county have confronted the commissioners over proposed oil wells over the past year. He said the county needs leadership that won’t be unduly persuaded by those groups.

District 2 incumbent County Commissioner Doug Monger, a Democrat, said the county has permitted about 15 oil wells during his nearly 12 years as commissioner, and he is unaware of any problems that resulted. However, he said many of his constituents are scared to death by energy exploration and that he has set aside his own views on the industry to represent their views.

He rejected a suggestion from a member of the audience that the county commissioners have placed unnecessary roadblocks in the path of the energy industry.

"My responsibility is to protect public health, safety and welfare, and I take that very seriously," Monger said. "I meld my position — that's the job of a public servant. I'm not portraying my position. If you ask people in my constituency if that's unnecessary roadblocks — we'll see on Nov. 6."

Monger's Republican challenger, Tina Kyprios, expressed disappointment that neither Monger nor Mitsch Bush attended an open house with the board of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Steamboat on Monday. She saw it as an opportunity to foster relationships with the state regulatory board.

"I believe local government, this is where the rules should be made," Kyprios said.

However, Kyprios said, the COGCC has "done a great job" with its well bore integrity program, which her research has led her to conclude is more critical to protecting the environment than any issues related to well fracking.

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

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