As one of a handful of Colorado counties in which gas and oil development is a prominent industry, La Plata County is no stranger to the impacts that such activity wreaks.
For each of the more than 3,000 wells governed by our countys rules, there is a proportional effect on air quality, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat and landowners. As such, those rules should carefully consider those impacts and meaningfully head them off or mitigate them accordingly.
At Tuesdays meeting of the La Plata County Board of Commissioners, the county did just the opposite when it chose not to reinstate its 10-acre rule.
The back story on this long-languishing issue began in 2008 when the county adopted the latest iteration of its gas and oil rules. In that version, a rule that prohibited new gas and oil development in subdivisions of lots of less than 10 acres was dropped without public discussion. What followed was two years of back and forth between concerned residents, the gas and oil industry, the county planning commission, county planning staff and the commissioners.
Despite recommendations from the planning commission that the rule be reinstated as well as steady and widespread insistence from landowners county commissioners on Tuesday declined to reinstate the rule, carrying the staff claim that doing so would have kicked the impact can down the road to property owners who do not live in small-lot subdivisions.
That claim, made in the name of protecting unaware landowners countywide, does not quite pass the sniff test. While it certainly is true that many property owners particularly those new to the region are surprised to learn that the gas and oil industry has the right to access the minerals it owns or has leased, regardless of who owns the surface above those minerals, the assertion that hundreds of people would be unjustly impacted by the protections offered to the few who live in small-lot subdivisions is a gross misrepresentation.
While there now is a decent quiver of rules at the county and state level that attempts to balance that equation by protecting landowners and other resources affected by gas and oil development, the scales still tip toward industry. That can be a shock to landowners, to be sure, and the jurisdictional entity in this case the county is responsible for communicating that reality to property owners, as well as attempting to minimize the impacts.
However, the spacing of wells which is the issue that county staff is claiming as paramount to its recommendations is set by the state, and it wont change based on the county rule.
By refusing to reinstate the rule, the county has not protected a broader range of landowners or, put more cynically, spread the pain as staff claims.
Instead, it has removed a protection for small-lot communities, plain and simple. The original manner in which the rule was removed was problematic, and the ensuing circuitous and tedious path that led to the measures permanent demise is no less so. La Plata County did its residents a disservice by dismissing this protection.
firstname.lastname@example.org Megan Graham is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.