Revised oil, gas regulations approved for Elbert County

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After nearly three years of work — and a great deal of drama and controversy — the Elbert County Planning Commission unanimously approved new zoning regulations that will serve as a partial framework for future oil and gas exploration in the county.

The approval came at the planning commission's first meeting of 2014, held Jan. 2 in Kiowa.

The 17-page document that contains the new regulations is now available for public review. The regulations are expected to go before the Board of County Commissioners for final approval on Feb. 12.

The new regulations, which define the difference between so-called "major" and "minor" oil and gas facilities, only apply to minor facilities and establish an expedited administrative approval process that will be defined in what county officials describe as "a standard MOU" - or memorandum of understanding - currently being fine-tuned by county attorney Alex Beltz.

"The MOU is not regulatory but rather a binding contractual agreement between the operator and the county agreeing to standards higher than those set forth in state regulations," said Community Services and Development Director Kyle Fenner.

Operators of proposed major oil and gas facilities will still have to go through a more complicated "special use by review process" that Fenner said would take at least six months to complete and involves required community "informational" meetings as well as various specific approvals from both the planning commission and the BOCC.

Up to now, all oil and gas companies wishing to operate in Elbert County have had to go through the same lengthy administrative review process.

Those companies granted permits will still have to adhere to state-regulated development guidelines established by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

BOCC chair Robert Rowland emphasized the new MOU will not supersede existing state oil and gas regulations but will allow minor facility operators to expedite the approval process if they are willing to consent to "more stringent guidelines" for their projects.

Rowland said he is particularly concerned with "stopping" three common practices used in the drilling process: "open pits containing produced or flowback water; spraying 'produced' water on roads; and allowing setbacks that, in some cases, can be as little as 500 feet."

"Not wanting open pits speaks for itself," said Rowland. "This county is beautiful. We don't want a bunch of big, polluted holes in the ground that are abandoned by oil companies when they leave."

Not using produced water on roads, Rowland explained, pertains to regulations that currently allow oil and gas companies to reuse the same water used in drilling to spray over area roads in order to control dust kicked up by the heavy truck traffic involved in the drilling process.

And Rowland said he also would like to see the county have the leverage to encourage drillers to create setbacks as great as 1,500 feet. "Nobody wants an oil facility operating in their back yard," he said.

"People don't understand," Rowland added. "I'm actually an environmentalist too. I'm a fanatic about a clean environment."

Saying "responsible" oil and gas development "could help ensure the long-term [financial] stability of Elbert County," Rowland added: "Up to now, many of the oil and gas companies have been frustrated and more likely to go around us than try to do business here."

Increased oil and gas revenues, Rowland said, could bolster the bank accounts of many county residents and help lift the county out of its current financial morass.

Although Elbert County has never had a moratorium on oil and gas exploration, Rowland said the adverse publicity surrounding the county's three-year struggle to approve revisions to its permitting process has slowed oil and gas development in the county.

"Why would these companies want to spend six months or more dealing with these whackadoodles?" Rowland said. "They're fed up with us."

Fenner complimented the planning commissioners on their efforts to come together and finally approve the new document, noting that they did so with a list of 17 recommended edits and minor revisions that will now be reviewed by the BOCC.

"This may not be perfect," Fenner said. "But it's a great place to start."

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RickBrown

I see you guys removed all the comments pointing out the gross inaccuracies in this article. What's up with that?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 | Report this
schroyer39

Alright George, since you're least attempting to correct some of the gross inaccuracies of the original article you posted on 1/4/2014, let's go ahead and set the record straight on a couple inaccuracies that still exist in this article.

The document that was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission, does not in fact "only apply to minor facilities." The document has a huge loophole by which ALL oil and gas facilities in the county can be permitted under this new fast-track process. Ms. Fenner has, at her discretion, the authority to call any "major" facility a "minor" facility, thereby circumventing the existing Use By Special Review process and the public scrutiny that that would entail. Of course, the Planning Commission would, in theory, be able to review her decision and make their own recommendation to the BOCC, but I think we're all aware how far that'll go; it has been apparent for quite some time that Ms. Fenner is simply a BOCC puppet.

Also, the public has yet to see an MOU that contains "standards higher than those set forth in state regulations". In fact, the vast majority of the MOU that I read was a verbatim copy of COGCC regulations. The MOU Editing Committee crafted a document that DID contain higher standards than those in the COGCC regulations, but the BOCC, led by none other than Robert Rowland (that "whackadoodle" environmentalist fanatic), well... they threw that MOU in the trash.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 | Report this
RobertThomasson

I used to be a columnist for this paper. My wife and I reported not only on the Super Slab but many other issues of importance in regards to commerce and natural resources. We were very careful to meet a standard of accuracy in our work. We were only as credible as the factuality of our reporting. I was at the Elbert County Planning Commission meeting discussed in the article above. The content of this piece is a total misrepresentation of the facts presented in the meeting. As if that was not bad enough, your paper is now censuring the comments that were much more accurate than writing in the article itself. This type of behavior is beneath the standards of legitimate news providers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 | Report this
elcocitizen

I attended the meeting. The article is accurate and outlines the basics that took place in order to get the much needed document back to the BOCC. There was more that took place, of course, but it was just the usual whackadoodles trying desperately to derail the train, as usual. Now they can all go before the BOCC which has the SOLE authority to produce the MOU regardless of what anyone tries to say and start their ranting and raving all over again. Thank goodness for the more reasonable voices now on the planning commission.

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | Report this
RobertThomasson

To Elcocitizen,

If you were in fact at the meeting and you have followed this issue closely you will understand that the first iteration of this article said that the MOU was passed. That was incorrect and a misrepresentation. You also would have noticed that the Elbert County News pulled the comments and tried to make corrections to their article. These two points are undeniable facts. Now let's address your reluctance to identify yourself or your decision to parrot the language of Robert Rowland, a man just fined by the state for misuse of public funds by a respected judge. Could it be that you do not wish to disclose your personal information because you are one of Rowland's chosen few? Are you an employee who is driving a county vehicle? Are you one of the Tea Party faithful who receive Mr. Rowland's electronic pleas for attendance at county meetings to drown out the voices of those who wish to protect the land, the air and the water of their home county? You see you can call us names (Whackadoodles) and pretend we have a political agenda, but the fact remains that you cannot drink oil. I have water rights, I have mineral rights, I know we are going to have fracking and I exercise my constitutionally protected to petition my local government to provide reasonable safeguards in regards to this future development. I wear your labels as a badge of honor because it means I am standing up against the status quo in our poorly governed county. Can you defend the actions of a local government that is currently being sued by sixteen different groups and cannot even provide us with a place to take our garbage? No, for you it is easier to to call someone a name and not bother to even ask that person if they want fracking. Your dialogue is tiresome and the hallmark of greedy politicians.

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | Report this
schroyer39

Elcocitizen, a few observations about your comments:

The author’s original article (1/4/2014) didn’t even come close to outlining “the basics”. That’s why a number of people immediately responded with negative comments… the original comments were removed when the author reposted this “corrected” article (1/6/2014).

Why is the document agreed upon by the Planning Commission on 1/2/2014 “much needed”? There is already a procedure in place by which an oil and gas operator can obtain a permit from the county. You’ll find that procedure in the Elbert County Zoning Regulations, Part 2, Section 17. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with it.

What “usual whackadoodles” are you referring to? I saw one or two members of the Planning Commission trying to ensure that their corrections had been captured adequately by Ms. Fenner. Apparently some corrections and revisions had been “omitted” from earlier drafts. I also saw a few residents of the county voice concern over a number of issues with the document… concern that appeared to be shared with members of the Planning Commission. I did NOT see anyone “trying desperately to derail the train”.

The BOCC does not have “the sole authority to produce the MOU”, regardless of what you think; again, you need to get your facts straight. For the record, ANYONE can write a Memorandum of Understanding… only the BOCC has the legal authority to enter into a contract between Elbert County and a third party.

And finally, the “more reasonable voices now on the planning commission” should have recused themselves from voting the night of 1/2/2014. It certainly would have appeared less like the BOCC was “stacking the deck” to get their way. I hope your voice was not counted among those three new appointees.

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | Report this