The 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 resident.

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 the process.

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:

Members of the planning commissions are as follows.

Crestone/Baca Planning Commission:
David Nicholas
David Chubirka
Christian Dillo
Ralph Abrams
Diane Dunlap
Lisa Cyriacks, Chair

Saguache County Planning Commission:
Don Geddes
Annie Nielsen
Bill McClure
Richard Drake
Tim Scanlon
Judy Messoline
Richard Laurie
Laura Mezoff
Jeff Shook, Chair