Residents seek oil, gas regulations do-over

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Expert who resigned says situation can be salvaged

Retired petroleum engineer Grant Thayer says he acted hastily after Elbert County commissioners voted to reject an amendment to the land-use code and the accompanying memorandum of understanding that would have formalized the county’s process for oil and gas exploration.

Thayer resigned from the county’s all-volunteer editing committee — the group that helped prepared the controversial documents — shortly after the board’s July 10 vote, citing “lack of leadership” on the matter, resulting in what some have labeled an ambush vote.

But Thayer cedes that with clarity of time he’s been able to reflect.

“We can fix this,” Thayer told commissioners on Aug. 14. “I think we can take a lot of the negatives here and turn them into a positive, and the positive I’d like to suggest is that the BOCC return the regulations as written to the editing committee, recognizing there are some points that need either clarification or need to be rewritten.”

Thayer says the perhaps the biggest mistake made was the fact the documents in question have been referred to as oil and gas regulations.

“We don’t have oil and gas regulations,” he explained. “What we have is really an oil and gas surface mitigation program…and the goal was to focus on the fact there will impacts to the county, to our roads, infrastructure and population.”

Thayer also explained many everyday words take on different meanings when applied to contracts in the oil and gas industry and that with another chance, and more guidance, the project could be salvaged.

“One of the things I’ve learned, looking back as an executive in the oil gas industry,” he said, “is that language is important; and that a lot of everyday terms have different meaning to the industry — and if you don’t understand the language, you’re not going to be able to negotiate a very effective MOU.”

Board of County Commissioners Chairman Robert Rowland, who, at times, has questioned the legality of the editing committee’s work, reminded the packed room the county has a process for amending zoning regulations, and that it should be followed.

“I think by recognizing reasons for the negative vote,” Thayer told Rowland, “and I think with some effort and willingness to accommodate each other’s ideas we can resolve this very easily and come up with a document that is uniquely Elbert County and that will work.”

Elbert County Resident Paul Crisan agrees that compromise is needed.

“Not only has this become a confusing issue in the county, it has also become a very divisive issue,” he said.

Lack of trust between the county and its residents, said Crisan, has contributed to the impasse.

“If we could just get this back on track and bring it through the process…because we have to,” Crisan said. “Right now we’re sitting here with nothing and it’s causing a lot of unrest in the county.”

While commissioners acknowledged the request, a decision on the matter is not expected until later.

“Of all the questions I’ve heard brought up about the oil and gas regulations,” said Thayer, “they are all easily resolvable.”