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Pitkin County moving slowly on oil, gas regs

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County is moving forward cautiously with plans to beef up its land-use regulations relating to oil and gas development.

Further consideration of regulations that won initial approval from county commissioners in March has been delayed several times. Now, a special meeting that had been scheduled Tuesday to consider the regulations has been rescheduled to Aug. 3.

“It’s very complicated, and it’s complicated for a lot of reasons,” said Cindy Houben, the county’s head planner.

Pitkin County has undertaken a major overhaul of its regulations in response to new state rules adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission a year ago.

The state regulations, however, are largely untested in court thus far, Houben noted.

“We know they’re going to be dynamic regulations, and they’ll change,” she said. “At some point, there’s going to be a lawsuit, and they’ll change.”

Industry representatives at a March hearing on the proposed county regulations hinted the county could open itself up to litigation.

“We’ll be one of the first out of the gate with new regulations, so I’m sure there’s going to be some vulnerability there,” Houben said. “We don’t want to just fold and not do things. We also don’t want to purposely step into something that isn’t worth the fight.”

A representative of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association attending the March hearing urged industry input into the county’s work on the regulations, but that has not occurred. The industry, she said, is apparently unwilling to tip its hand to Peter Hart, a conservation analyst and staff attorney with Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop whom the county hired to review the local regulations.

The county’s proposed new rules, as initially approved in March, would strengthen the water-quality standards and monitoring requirements that would be applied to oil and gas operations. The application process would also become more detailed and demanding. The amended code addressed the visual and noise impacts associated with oil and gas operations, air quality, wildlife impact avoidance and requirements for surface and subsurface water protection and water monitoring, among other concerns.

The proposed code also augmented the financial assurances required by the state to cover potential accidents, unforeseen events and potential long-term damage to the health of citizens, the environment, water and wildlife.

The county, though not a hotbed of oil and gas development, has seen leases and leasing interest in its northwest corner, in the Thompson Creek Divide area outside of Carbondale. Old well pads and still-active pipelines exist within the county’s boarders in that northwest corner, as well.

janet@aspentimes.com


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