December 16, 2016
The Weld County Board of Commissioners recently passed a new set of regulations, or rather, a new process for approval of an oil and natural gas drilling site within the County that allows nearby property owners more of a voice, protects surface owners, and eliminates bureaucratic government processes. The Board did so in the interest of protecting the property rights of the landowners within the county, yet the regulations seem to be misunderstood by some media and by some residents both inside and outside of the County.
Oil and gas development is regulated by an alphabet soup of agencies (COGCC, EPA, BLM, OSHA, etc.) in addition to local governments. In general, most of the below ground aspects of oil and gas development—well construction, fracking fluid, etc.—are regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), while the above-ground aspects—surface location, fencing, truck routes, etc.—are regulated by local governments.
In recent years, the COGCC has taken a larger and larger role in regulating the above-ground aspects with laws such as increased setbacks. Although this may seem favorable at first glance, it is also a blanket solution that tramples the property rights of rural landowners, specifically those of farmers. Farmers who want to allow oil and gas development on their property have been forced to move the well sites out into the middle of their fields, eliminating productive agricultural land in the process. A farmer who wants to put a well closer to his house, maintenance shed, barn, or other occupied structure must go through a cumbersome process to do so without breaking state law.
The new regulations allow land owners more say regarding well locations, while simultaneously giving adjacent property owners notification and a chance to voice their opinion earlier on in the State’s permitting process. They have essentially created a checklist for surface owners, oil and gas operators, and adjacent property owners to come to complete agreement, and if all parties agree, the project can go forward with a faster permitting process. If there is any disagreement, the project is reviewed and settled by the Board of Commissioners.
What does the oil and gas industry think of the new process? Well, they’re pretty neutral. The industry, like any other major industry, does not like regulatory change. When this idea was first floated in late 2015, it started as a new Use by Special Review (USR) process. The industry reacted negatively to that. The Board of Commissioners proceeded to hold a seemingly endless series of stakeholder meetings with the COGCC, industry representatives, landowners and County staff to work through solutions that were agreeable to all. In the end, operators must get used to a new process and get buy-in from all parties, but they are rewarded with an expedited local permitting process.
This regulation does not in any way detract from regulations that have been implemented in the interest of safety, and it actually gives parties who may be affected by an oil and gas development site MORE say into how the operation proceeds, all while eliminating bureaucratic government processes.
Hats off to the Board of Commissioners for protecting their constituents and for pushing back against State overreach.