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Steve Lewis: Kudos to county

I would like to respond to the letter from Citizens Supporting Property Rights ("Balance, respect needed") in the Sept. 19 Steamboat Today in which the group complains about new zoning regulations on oil and gas production in Routt County. Citizens Supporting Property Rights may benefit from a reminder of some problems those regulations seek to address. Allow me to paraphrase one from Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission records:

On Aug. 1, 2009, Norman Anderson, a Weld County property owner, filed Complaint No. 200217527 with the COGCC alleging gas bubbles were present in his water. His water well was completed June 29, 2009, approximately 960 feet northwest of the natural gas Dupper #2 well, which had been completed in November 1984 by Eddy Oil.

Tests of Anderson's water samples detected toluene, dissolved methane and thermogenic gas. After further tests of the Dupper #2 well bore, COGCC staff concluded that a hole in the well casing provided a route for contamination of the local Laramie-Fox Hills Aquifer by produced gas from the Codell Sandstone Formation farther below.

It is not possible to determine when the Dupper #2 well initially caused the contamination of the aquifer. COGCC agreed to use a period of 26 days of alleged violation. COGCC contends "that a hole in the production casing in the Well resulted in a significant waste of oil and gas resources and a significant adverse impact on public health, safety or welfare or the environment." COGCC further contended that Eddy Oil's Dupper #2 failure "resulted in the degradation and contamination of ground water."

For these violations by Dupper #2, COGCC found a total maximum allowable fine of $66,000. This fine was then reduced by 30 percent — 10 percent because Eddy Oil is implementing casing testing on all of its wells, 10 percent because Eddy Oil paid $42,000 to Anderson, and 10 percent because Eddy Oil has a history of compliance with the COGCC. The parties agreed to a fine of $46,200.

In the scale of industry revenues, that low penalty for aquifer contamination hardly is incentive for better practices. Similar stories across our nation create valid concern about this industry's impact on Colorado and its cozy relationship with the COGCC. Aquifer contamination from oil and gas activity in Colorado does occur. Thankfully, Routt County reviewed local zoning regulations to better protect us where the state has not.

Another case in point, the Quicksilver/Camilletti oil well is less than a mile uphill of Milner's domestic water wells. To monitor potential aquifer contamination at Milner, Routt County required extra groundwater testing between the Camilletti well and the Milner water wells. COGCC threatened Routt County with a lawsuit against this requirement, but Routt County stood firm. Our county's standing up for that small community, against the state of Colorado, took character and courage. It was the highest standard of care I have seen in local government. Weeks later, Matt Holman, from Shell Oil, fully embraced Routt County’s regulations, insisting his corporate goals call for the same approach.

Thus it is disappointing to hear Citizens Supporting Property Rights, along with some candidates for county commissioner and House District 26, complain that our county regulations go too far. They said oil production is being diminished by county regulations. Rebuttal is easy — no well permit has been denied. But the larger problem is their arguments fail to identify one regulation worthy of repeal. Where is the integrity of this argument? I do not see it.

Worse, Citizens Supporting Property Rights' inability to muster a specific regulatory complaint is confusing. Are these folks seriously advocating we lower Routt County standards below what Shell Oil already has embraced?

Steve Lewis

Steamboat Springs