02 Sep Delta County: Repeal. Retribution. Irresponsible.
As we have been reporting for over a month, Delta County is on the verge of repealing its oil and gas regulations and is expected to make a final decision tomorrow, September 3, 10 a.m., at a public meeting at the Delta County Courthouse. Their decision to repeal the regulations will make such activity exempt from County regulations, and essentially, throw away local control over oil and gas activity.
In a County Commissioner Worksession on Wednesday, August 27th, Commissioner Suppes pulled “the cat totally out of the bag” and stated precisely why the County is repealing its oil and gas regulations. He said because “CHC sued the County… and that it has become painfully obvious that CHC and groups within the County have no desire to compromise.” He added that the County has been trying for twenty years to do “the best we can with regulations and it’s never good enough and always inadequate in your eyes…and the County can’t afford lawsuits every time we make a decision.”
The County’s reaction is essentially a retaliation and retribution against the public for exercising its right to public accountability and good governance. Plain and simple.
Good regulators know that they will not please everyone with their regulations. “Not good enough,” “not willing to compromise,” and “inadequate in your eyes,” are not good, or even defensible reasons, for putting the entire county at risk. And the County’s proposed action will put us at risk financially as well as health and safety-wise by repealing all oil and gas regulations that give the County its authority to protect its citizens, infrastructure and budget.
More importantly, retaliation for exercising the public’s right to government accountability is simply wrong and irresponsible government.
Good regulators know that the best way to avoid a lawsuit is to develop sound regulations then follow them. Delta County was aware of its deficiencies and legal vulnerabilities for over a year, and instead of correcting them, they did nothing and blamed CHC for exposing them in a lawsuit. Even if a decision is unpopular, we expect the County to be a good regulator and to follow its regulations.
Consequences of Repeal
CHC sent a legal memo to the County Commissioners, Planning Commission, County Attorney, County Administrator and Director of Community and Economic Development, that clearly explains:
- How SB 181 works and the consequences of waiving local authority,
- the new authority and powers granted to the County by SB 181, and
- the definition of a moratorium–that it is a tool available for local government to take the necessary time to revise its regulations while maintaining local control.
This memo was sent to the Planning Commission via the planning commission email firstname.lastname@example.org. This email does not go directly to the Planning Commission. It goes to Elyse Ackerman-Casselberry, who then forwards it to the planning commissioners. She said at the Planning Commission Worksession on Wednesday, August 28th that she forgot to forward it to the planning commissioners before the worksession. The Planning Commissioners therefore did not have the benefit of this memo prior to their worksession, and the Planning Commission Chair refused to have it introduced at the worksession for consideration.
We have not seen a similar memo from the County justifying its action.
Once repealed, the County will have abdicated all of its local authority regarding ensuring that operators pay their own way and don’t burden taxpayers with costs associated with their operations. The biggest costs to local governments of oil and gas operations are road maintenance and repair, emergency response, and law enforcement. The County has no proposed regulatory replacement to ensure that these costs are not absorbed by the taxpayer.
In addition, the biggest concern for the County in its current regulations in addition to roads and emergency response, which are not addressed by the State, is impact to agriculture and ensuring no interference with irrigation infrastructure or conveyance of irrigation water, which is also not addressed by the State. The Oil and Gas Working Group’s biggest concern was truck traffic, hazardous materials transportation and traffic accidents, which is also not covered by the COGCC because the COGCC primarily regulates onsite wellpad or wastewater injection well activities. Geohazards and water quality are the source of community concerns for public safety and health which are also not well regulated by the COGCC. In other words, the County is planning on relying on the State to protect Delta County residents’ interests, when the State does not address Delta County’s specific issues.
Proposed Interim Process
While the County is proposing an Interim Process to manage the transition created by the repeal of the regulations, that Interim Process is NOT the subject of this County Commissioner Hearing on repeal of the oil and gas regulations on September 3, 2019. More importantly, the Interim Process, presented to the Oil and Gas Working Group and to the Planning Commission does not address current operations in the County, the 100-plus plugged and abandoned wells in the County, or ensure public accountability. The Interim Process only addresses new development applications and creates a public input process that will wind up costing taxpayers—notice and public hearings that will have no effect because the county will no longer have regulatory authority to do anything with those comments.
The following table demonstrates that the County, without repealing its regulations, already has the power to use the State to complement its regulations and better protect its citizens, which it is not using. Instead it is proposing an Interim Process, as if it is a new way to rely on the state. If the County isn’t taking advantage of the state now, why should we believe it will do so later? Especially when there is no regulatory requirement for it to do so.
The County Commissioners are ONLY discussing repeal of the oil and gas regulations on Tuesday, September 3rd. The Interim Process and Resolution to implement it are not expected until middle of September 2019.
This headlong rush to repeal without a real replacement in place makes no sense. How can Delta County be a leader in clean air, water and protecting healthy communities if it doesn’t exercise its regulatory authority to do so? How can Delta County prioritize agriculture if it doesn’t exercise its authority to mitigate and prevent impacts to water availability caused by oil and gas development in our watersheds and around our farms, and hazardous materials truck traffic along our ditches? How can Delta County claim to be responsible with taxpayer money when it waives its authority to prevent taxpayers from absorbing costs incurred by this industry?
This is an absolutely unacceptable outcome in a county like ours where we can anticipate significant increases in oil and gas activity in the future. The best solution that makes Delta County safer while shielding the County from litigation is a longstanding local government tool for such situations, which is called a moratorium, and our Commissioners refuse to consider such an option.
Repeal of county regulations will send the signal that the North Fork Valley is open for business to unfettered oil and gas development. As a community we have worked hard on our brand, and to be part of the climate solution with regenerative agriculture and renewable energy, not part of the climate problem; a health and wellness destination, not health refugees and a place to avoid; an outdoor recreation paradise with abundant wildlife, clean air and water, not industrial zones in the National Forest. Delta County needs to be a leader and stand behind its Master Plan goals to be a leader in clean air, water and protecting healthy communities.
Take Action. Attend the public hearing Tuesday, September 3, 2019, at 10:00am at the Delta County Courthouse, Commissioners Meeting Room.
Stay tuned to this developing issue.