County ready to fight rule changed by state

— The Routt County Commissioners believe a state agency did an end run around its planning regulations last spring. And they say they'll weigh in when Colorado Counties Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League seek to change a regulation recently adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

"This is an issue that could be very, very dangerous for us," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said recently.

Specifically, Stahoviak and her colleagues Dan Ellison and Doug Monger are objecting to a rule revision adopted by the oil and gas commission in May that appears to free energy exploration companies from a local planning review. The commissioners hold public hearings to issue special-use permits for oil and gas wells, for example. The permits are in place to ensure energy exploration companies take care of the site and are responsible for any damage they cause to county roads, among other things.

"Routt County has issued SUPs for (oil and gas drilling) ever since it was a county," Ellison said.

The revised rule adopted by the oil and gas commission reads: "The permit to drill (issued by the oil and gas commission) shall be binding with respect to any conflicting local government permit or land use approval process."

Ellison said he interprets that language to mean it allows the energy companies to ignore any activity by the county. He said issues surrounding energy exploration are compounded by the fact that there are often two sets of property owners involved those with surface rights and those with rights to the minerals below the surface.

"The county permit process ensures both parties are talking to each other," Ellison said.

Stahoviak said her primary concern is that the end-around being taken by the oil and gas commission sets a precedent for agencies and industries avoiding the local planning process.

Monger said the county's opposition to the rule change doesn't mean it is anti-energy exploration. However, he said he doesn't think it's right for the state commission to remove the county's ability to protect its residents from incurring costs that could be created by energy exploration for instance, damage to county roads.

The commissioners pointed out that in 1997, the state Legislature killed a Senate bill that would have pre-empted local regulation of the oil and gas industry.

They say they will commit an unspecified amount of money to aid a bid by Colorado Counties Inc. to have the rule revision reversed.

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