Our View: County’s stand is correct, admirable | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: County’s stand is correct, admirable

In defying the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last week, the Routt County Board of Commissioners took a courageous and defining stand for the protection of area water quality as well as the principle that communities ought to have a powerful voice in how the energy industry operates at the local level.

Despite a strongly worded letter from the director of the Oil and Gas Commission — the state agency charged with regulating the oil and gas industry throughout Colorado — recommending that Routt County not attempt to "usurp the COGCC's authority" by mandating water-quality monitoring conditions for a Quicksilver Resources oil well north of Milner, the three Routt County commissioners moved forward unanimously with the special conditions.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, a Republican from South Routt, matter-of-factly summed up the commissioners' reasoning.

"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. 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."

Regulatory authority over the energy industry has been a hot-button issue in Colorado in recent months, and Routt County is hardly the first to seek its own path through the jurisdictional quagmire. We previously admonished Gov. John Hickenlooper's oil and gas task force for failing to provide any real answers to the question of who has what say over energy industry exploration at the local level.

So kudos to the Routt County commissioners for deciding they will take responsibility for ensuring safe and responsible oil and gas development here, even when it means going toe to toe with powerful energy interests. Specific to Quicksilver Resources' permit for an exploratory well on the Camilletti ranch north of Milner, the commissioners think the conditions put in place by the state's Oil and Gas Commission simply don't go far enough in protecting groundwater supplies from potential harm. The county's own conditions mandate that Quicksilver drill a water-quality monitoring well between its proposed oil well and the unincorporated town of Milner, where 39 domestic water wells provide drinking water to residents.

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The Oil and Gas Commission and Quicksilver Resources say a water-quality monitoring well is unnecessary given other safeguards in place to protect against contamination. They may be right. But we prefer to err on the side of caution, particularly when it comes to the long-term health of an invaluable resource like groundwater. We're pleased the commissioners feel the same way.

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