Garfield County delays man-camp decision |

Garfield County delays man-camp decision

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Garfield County commissioners on Monday delayed taking action on proposed draft regulations that would streamline permitting of temporary housing at county well pads.

Those preliminary rules would include allowing energy companies to establish small temporary housing facilities, or “man camps,” without having to go through a county public hearing for approval.

But after an almost three-hour public hearing on the issue, commissioners voted to continue their consideration of the matter so they can separately review the proposed temporary housing regulations and possibly return with a motion to decide the issue.

The commissioners will consider the matter again on April 7.

The proposed draft regulations would allow the industry to build temporary housing for up to eight workers at area well pads without needing to obtain special use permits ” a process the county calls “use-by-right.”

Energy companies now have to receive those permits during public hearings before county commissioners.

However, companies would still have to receive a building permit for the structure in the draft rules. And any temporary housing would also have to be at a state-approved well pad, and companies must have a surface-use agreement with the landowner. Most energy companies seek permission to place temporary housing on a landowner’s property through a surface-use agreement.

The temporary housing structures, under the county’s proposed regulations, would also have to meet certain performance standards for state, local and federal jurisdiction, such as providing adequate water supplies, according to the draft rules. And camps housing from nine to 24 workers would require authorization by the county planning department.

Anything larger would require a hearing before county commissioners, as the county has been requiring of camps of all sizes under its current rules.

“We are committed to the adherence of performance standards (mandated) by the county,” said Brenda Linster, with EnCana Oil and Gas (USA), who represented the industry at the meeting. “We do, however, question the need for a cumbersome permitting process for small housing facilities.”

The commissioners last considered the issue in early February. However a sharp debate between commissioners led them to continue the public hearing on the matter until Monday.

“We are trying to find a compromise for an issue that can polarize a community,” said Commissioner John Martin, adding the streamlined rules on small temporary housing are for critical personnel at a well pad, rather than as a way to build affordable housing.

Commissioner Larry McCown said the need to revamp the county’s rules on temporary housing was a matter of safety. He said companies need to have critical personnel on site 24-hours a day to maintain a well pad’s operations. He added that he and the industry support vigorous, independent inspection of the small, temporary housing units.

“There has been a tremendous misunderstanding between critical personnel and employee housing,” McCown said. “We are clearly in no way cramming this down anyone’s throat. This is a safety issue.”

Commissioner Tresi Houpt said if the county goes with use-by-right for small temporary housing, and if there are residents who don’t have a surface-use agreement for a well pad on their property, there is no opportunity for those residents to weigh in about people living on their property.

“I have a real problem with the notion of a use-by-right,” Houpt said. “That leaves the county out of the regulatory process.”

Houpt said it was important for the community that the industry define essential personnel needed at a well pad, and to give residents an idea how long temporary housing may be on a landowner’s property.

“It is imperative that we get as a great of a handle on this as much as we can,” Houpt said.

The Western Colorado Congress, in a letter to commissioners, said its main concerns about the proposal is that it is “arbitrary and capricious” because it exempts the oil and gas industry, while it keeps requirements on every other industry and landowner.

The group said allowing small temporary housing as “a use-by-right” could lead to “unsafe living conditions for the employees, as well as environmental damage to the land from potential unsafe water and sewer stems.

Dick Morgan, a landowner and rancher on Divide Creek, said while EnCana works well with him ” the company has a well pad on his property ” he had a problem with “use-by-right” for temporary housing on his property. He said he understood companies have the right to enter property and extract the minerals, but that he has a problem if nonessential personnel begin “moving in trailers and start living on my property.”

“I have a problem with that,” Morgan said.