Rob Douglas: County right on oil well | SteamboatToday.com

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Rob Douglas: County right on oil well

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

— By refusing to kowtow Tuesday night to a heavy-handed attempt by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to have water-quality monitoring requirements dropped from an oil well permit for Quicksilver Resources, the Routt County Board of Commissioners exemplified how government closest to the people governs best.

First, a bit of history.

For upwards of a year now, Quicksilver Resources has been battling with Routt County officials about environmental concerns arising from Quicksilver's desire to drill an exploratory oil well on the Camilletti Ranch near Milner. The exploratory well could lead to additional oil wells being drilled on the ranch.

The proposed oil well is up the water gradient one mile from dozens of domestic water wells in Milner. Because of the up-gradient relationship between the oil well site and the water wells, the county commissioners are concerned about the possibility of contaminating Milner's water supply.

After months of wrangling and eventually reaching agreement on more than 60 other conditions of approval, Quicksilver and the county commissioners remained at loggerheads about the commissioners' demand for water-quality monitoring — monitoring that Quicksilver argued was above and beyond state regulations. Further, Quicksilver argued the negotiations with Routt County had been unreasonably drawn out and that Quicksilver had been subjected to an ever-changing, ever-increasing set of conditions for approval.

As tensions between the county commissioners and Quicksilver mounted, push eventually did come to shove. On June 26, Quicksilver indicated it was prepared to end negotiations with Routt County and call upon the Oil and Gas Commission to overrule the county's demands.

On Tuesday, just an hour before the first and only meeting since Quicksilver called foul, the Oil and Gas Commission dropped an email on the county commissioners indicating that if the county commissioners required Quicksilver to implement a water-quality monitoring program, they would be violating the Oil and Gas Commission's authority.

Routt County Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak, Doug Monger and Diane Mitsch Bush didn't blink. In fact, the county commissioners fired back at the Oil and Gas Commission with a charge of failure to protect the citizens of Colorado.

"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," Stahoviak said. "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."

As those words crossed the lips of Stahoviak, every right-thinking resident of Routt County should have cheered. Why? Because government closest to the people governs best.

That doesn't mean Stahoviak, Monger and Mitsch Bush are correct in their decision. That's not the issue. What matters is that the government body with authority for any decision should be as close as possible to the locale that will be impacted by the decision.

The freedom to live as we choose is best attained when we keep most government decisions as close to home as possible. We stand a better chance of exercising self-determination with our local government officials who are, by necessity and design, far more responsive to the character of our immediate community than officials and bureaucrats in Denver or Washington, D.C.

If a majority of local residents conclude the county commissioners are wrong in their approach to oil and gas development, those voters can impact the commissioners' approach in many ways — up to electing commissioners more aligned with the demands of the oil and gas industry. That ability to quickly impact specific public policies is heavily diluted as you move up the government ladder.

In the end, the county commissioners might have prevailed in one battle of a war they eventually lose. Nonetheless, the citizens of Routt County should be proud that the commissioners are fighting for local self-determination. After all, self-determination is the birthright of Americans.

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.