Crestone Eagle, May 2008:
Planning commissions finalize County
draft oil & gas regulations
by Lisa Cyriacks
In April, the Crestone/Baca and the Saguache
County planning commissions unanimously recommended approval
of draft oil and gas regulations for the Board of County Commissioners
review. Both planning bodies have spent numerous hours meeting
over several months to formulate a set of regulations that
are protective of water resources, the natural environment,
public health and safety, and to maintain property values.
In January the Saguache County Board of County Commissioners
passed an emergency temporary moratorium on oil and gas exploration
and development. The moratorium allowed the planning commissions
time to complete land use regulations controlling oil and
gas activity. The county commissioners also approved funding
to hire a coordinator to facilitate the planning commission’s
deliberations. That coordinator is Kathryn Van Note, Baca
The commissions relied on existing regulations within and
without the State of Colorado, material from natural and cultural
heritage organizations, environmental groups and industry
research to determine feasible parameters for oil and gas
operations in the county. Local citizens and citizens’
groups such as the San Luis Valley Citizens Alliance, the
San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition, and Water Watch
Alliance provided invaluable information and input during
Throughout the document the planning commissions included
statements of finding to communicate the basis of their thinking
and as support for the provisions that follow the statements
of fact. In their cover letter to the Board of County Commissioners,
the planning commissioners state, “We feel strongly
that, to the extent that we are able to put forward a substantiated,
reasoned argument for our requirements, they should have a
good chance of withstanding a potential challenge.”
The regulations, as written, used a hybrid of performance
and prescriptive regulations. Performance based regulations
place the burden on how to fulfill the requirement on the
applicant. In areas where adequate information was found,
the regulations were written with set specific parameters.
Throughout the process, the challenge was to take into consideration
the diversity of geographic attributes and resources found
within Saguache County. Overall the regulations take a site-specific
approach to defining operational parameters for the industry.
Some of the provisions are more stringent than those proposed
by the state. For the most part these more stringent measures
are related to water resources—surface and ground water.
Also, to ensure that financial responsibility in the event
of an accident falls on the industry, as well as protections
for county residents to generate energy through renewable
sources such as solar. The planning commissioners took seriously
the county’s responsibility to protect and promote the
health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Saguache County
and to ensure that proposed development not create an excessive
financial burden on Saguache County residents.
To address the issue of any possible Operational Conflicts
with the State Oil and Gas Commission’s newly drafted
rules, which have not been finalized, a section entitled Operational
Conflicts Special Exception provides the possibility to waive
any provision(s) of these regulations if there is a substantiated
necessity to do so in order to “protect the State’s
interest” or to “alleviate any unreasonable burden”
that may have been imposed upon the industry by that provision.
The burden of proof rests on the industry (or the State) to
support the need for the exception.
The planning commissions also recommended that the Board
of County Commissioners adopt regulations for Temporary Living
Quarters, an Emergency Response Plan as proposed by the Office
of Emergency Management for the county, and a Resolution allowing
for the Designation of Unique and Irreplaceable Areas found
in Saguache County.
A copy of the draft regulations and the date of the public
hearing on these regulations will be posted on the Saguache
County website: www.saguachecounty.net.
Members of the planning commissions are as follows.
Crestone/Baca Planning Commission:
Lisa Cyriacks, Chair
Saguache County Planning Commission:
Jeff Shook, Chair
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