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Colorado oil and gas regulators tussle with Weld County over control

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By Derek Draplin | The Center Square

The state regulatory body for Colorado’s oil and gas industry warned Weld County officials that it still maintains regulatory authority over development in the county, despite legislation that was passed to give more control to local governments.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) affirmed its regulatory authority over oil and gas development in Weld County in a letter sent Monday from the commission's attorney to the county's attorney.

Senate Bill 181, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in April, refocused the commission on health, safety and the environment over industry development, and proponents argued it would give local governments more ability to regulate the industry themselves.

Officials in Weld County, the state’s top energy producer, largely opposed the regulatory overhaul.

In response to the law, Weld County commissioners voted earlier this month to create a county Oil and Gas Department for permitting and regulating the industry themselves.

“By unanimous approval of the resolution during today’s board meeting, the Weld County Commissioners solidified their commitment of preserving oil and gas production in the county,” a county news release issued July 8 said.

The COGCC’s letter noted Weld County’s plans and warned the county’s attorney that the commission still has regulatory authority.

“As set forth in SB19-181, the COGCC continues to have regulatory authority over oil and gas locations in unincorporated Weld County,” the letter read.

“While SB 19-181 provides local governments with siting authority over oil and gas surface locations, it does not diminish the COGCC’s authority to regulate the orderly development of oil and gas throughout the state,” the letter continued. “To the contrary, SB19-181 reaffirms the critical role for the COGCC in numerous places.”

In a separate letter from COGCC Director Jeff Robbins, the commission said SB 181 “allows local government regulations to be more protective or stricter than state requirements, to decide not to regulate oil and gas, or to even regulate oil and gas in a less protective or weaker manner than the COGCC. However, any such regulations do not impact the regulatory authority of the COGCC.”

“SB 19-181 does not allow weaker or less protective regulations to usurp or do away with compliance with COGCC rules and regulations,” that letter continued.

Weld County Board of Commissioners responded in a statement Monday that COGCC is attempting to “take the ‘local’ out of ‘local control.’”

“Local governments have defined authorities over land use within their jurisdictions – authorities that were further enhanced by SB 19-181. For the COGCC, through the State Attorney’s Office, to now not only attempt to assume local control from local governments but also require a duplicative process for the oil and gas industry is both disappointing and irresponsible,” the board said. 

The county board indicated it would move forward with its own regulations.

“Weld County will exercise the authority the state has granted us to develop and implement our regulations as they work best for our county with regard to protecting public health, safety, welfare and the environment,” the statement added.