Routt County fires back at state over drilling permit process | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County fires back at state over drilling permit process

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners fired back Tuesday with a response to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Thom Kerr insisting that it, not his agency, is best suited to limit potential impacts to natural resources and public health that might result from the drilling of exploratory oil wells.

"We understand that COGCC is woefully understaffed and underfunded and may have difficulty dealing with permit applications while also addressing concerns of local government," the commissioners wrote. "Those issues aside, Routt County expects more. Thus, we feel that we, as the Board of County Commissioners, are in the best position to attempt to effectively mitigate impacts to our natural resources, public health and the environment where and when allowed. That is what we consider to be responsible."

Tuesday's letter was in response to a July 10 letter from Kerr cautioning the county commissioners that they would be usurping his agency's statutory authority if they attached their own water-quality testing conditions to an approval of a permit allowing Quicksilver Resources to drill an oil well near Milner.

The commissioners went ahead and approved Quicksilver's permit with the requirement that the company drill a water-quality monitoring well despite the objections of the applicant, which insisted the state process takes precedence in those matters. The Oil and Gas Commission took the position that proper casing of the well bore would be sufficient to protect groundwater.

Kerr had urged the county commissioners to interact with the Oil and Gas Commission's own permitting process through a local government designee. In the case of Routt County, that local designee is county planner Chris Brookshire, who analyzes and processes oil and gas permits.

Brookshire informed the Oil and Gas Commission in writing that the county wanted to impose conditions protecting air and water quality on the Quicksilver application because of the close proximity of 39 domestic water wells and residences in Milner.

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In the county commissioners' view, Brookshire's efforts were disregarded. During a meeting with legal staff, Brookshire and Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips on Tuesday pointed out that the Oil and Gas Commission has not followed through on promises of training sessions for local government designees and characterized Kerr's entreaties that they work collaboratively through the local government designee process as being hollow and in some ways unrealistic, given the short time frames to respond to new state well permits.

"They talk about all this kumbaya, wonderful cooperation between the COGCC and the LGD when in fact, the comments (Brookshire) provided in writing were not included" in the Oil and Gas Commission's findings on the Quicksilver proposal, Mitsch Bush said. "They were not considered at all. That, to me, does not look like cooperation."

Commissioner Doug Monger agreed, saying, "There was no notification that our comments weren't accepted and that we need to appeal."

Mitsch Bush called the local government designee process "disingenuous" and added that the 10 days the county is allowed to appeal its concerns to the Oil and Gas Commission are unrealistic and out of sequence. She said they would require Routt to make its case in advance of fully studying energy companies' permit applications at the county level and before it could discover pertinent issues through the public hearing process.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Routt County would not relinquish its authority to review permit applications under the umbrella of land-use policy issues.

"We're not going to do anything with our special-use permit process," Stahoviak said. "That's just not going to happen. We're going to add on water- and air-quality conditions. And during the process, other issues may come up. The bottom line is, we shouldn't have to submit every condition we're going to apply (to oil drilling permits) to the COGCC."

As a result of Tuesday's meeting, assistant county attorney Erick Knaus said he would rewrite the county's statements on air and water quality to be used on correspondence with the Oil and Gas Commission and make the statements more specific. Brookshire will research what procedures the county needs to follow to exercise its right to seek the involvement of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment when it thinks air and water quality are threatened by specific oil and gas well permit applications.

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

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