County rejects oil and gas regulations

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The State of Colorado has regulations for oil and gas exploration — and it looks like Elbert County is going to rely on them pretty heavily.

In a shocking 2-1 vote July 10, the Board of County Commissioners rejected an amendment to current land use regulations that would have better defined the county’s application and issuance process for oil and gas exploration permits.

The move left many residents who have followed the document for the past 30 months, including District 3 Commissioner Larry Ross, scratching their heads.

“I’m not really sure where this leaves us as a county,” said Ross, who cast the dissenting vote. “I, like everyone else, have been left to speculate on what happened.”

Although some believe the decision was a direct slap in the face to the all-volunteer planning committee that helped craft and edit the document, District 2 Commissioner Kurt Schlegel said the decision was based more on not duplicating existing state laws.

Grant Thayer, a retired petroleum engineer and member of the planning committee, resigned in light of the decision, stating in a letter submitted to the board that “without providing any leadership in the development of the proposed regulations, the commissioners have signaled a clear lack of confidence in the planning commission, its leadership or its recommendations to the BOCC.”

Thayer, who could not be reached for immediate comment, described the board’s vote as an “unexpected ambush.”

According to Ross, the vote takes Elbert County back to square one.

“The road map that so many people worked on is now in the trash,” he sighed.

Schlegel suggests the state already has regulations that govern oil and gas exploration, and the county is more appropriately charged with defining local land use than it is for rewriting state law. He said the vote was an unfortunate lesson for many.

“This is what happens when you try to govern by committee,” he explained. “It’s really up to staff to put together the regulations; the regulations would then be vetted by a committee and then eventually come before the board for a vote.”

Disagreements, plus confusion about whether the proposed oil and gas regulation should be “coupled” with a proposed memorandum of understanding that could allow faster permitting in exchange for meeting a set of standards, forced the BOCC to continue its June 26 discussion to July 10.

Schlegel acknowledged the contributions of the local planning commission, emphasizing that their work over the past two and a half years has been beneficial.

“Because of what the commission has done, more people are educated and more people are better informed — including myself,” he said.

But the decision is far from a total restart, Schlegel insisted.

He said the proposed documents have been sent to the Elbert County Planning Department, where staff will develop not more regulations, but a formalized permitting process for oil and gas.

“The state regulations are already there,” he said, “so what we need is the process for producers to enter the application system.”

Schlegel said producers looking to explore within Elbert County would have the option of applying for permit by either entering into a special agreement with the county, an MOU or by a more standard — and lengthy — application process.

Schlegel said he expects staff to have revised documents ready for the BOCC by the Aug. 14 meeting.

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