Sunday, June 10, 2012

CHC Questions District 2 Democratic Primary Candidates

Lonnie Brown and Ken Schneider are running in the primary on June 26 to be the Democratic candidate for District 2 County Commissioner. Recognizing the importance of the issue of oil and gas exploration in Huerfano County, Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC) developed the following questions for the candidates. Only four of the questions and answers were published in the newspaper. The numbers of those questions are shown in parentheses after the question below.

1) Do you feel that the current oil and gas regulations of Huerfano County would be improved with one or more of the enclosed Seven Safeguards? Yes/No: elaborate

Brown: Yes: Huerfano County should further review and consider the following:
Bonding: Bonding requirements at both the County and State levels should be reviewed and strongly considered for up-grading to more commensurate and realistic levels that reflect present day values and risk potential.
Water Quality: Huerfano County’s new oil/gas regulations that were recently adopted address “Water” in section 8.2.38 (e) under “Environmental quality standards”. Even though frack and drill chemicals are addressed to some degree, water quality is not specifically addressed. This section should be re-visited with the intent to strengthen it in terms of water quality. The handling and disposal of produced water should also be dealt with.
Air Quality: A plan should be initiated to develop an air quality testing program to be in place in the county before the production phase of oil/gas development if it progresses to that point. Other counties (like Garfield) have on-going air quality testing programs in place.
Pitless/Closed Loop: I would prefer that all drilling operations in Huerfano County be pitless. We should work toward that end. Under the existing regulations, there must be careful review of the environmental setting of each proposed drill location to “red-flag” potential hazards. COGCC can require closed loop systems on locations where the operation of a pit would create a potential for significant adverse impacts. However, they appear to fall back on the use or requirement of a “lined pit” as the acceptable answer. Until we can reach a total pitless program, we must be as strict as possible on the complete removal of all waste products, produced water, and pit liners.

Flaring: The county and CHC should combine with other counties to urge the State to adopt the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for oil/gas operations (specifically NSPS Subpart 0000). Once this is in place, the State would have primary enforcement authority which would trigger stronger controls, including the use of combustion devices and phasing in of emission completions or “green completions

Schneider: Yes: All of them. Mitigation should be increased. The $25,000 agreed to is inadequate. Shell Oil would even improve public relations by posting a bond. Disclosure of proprietary chemicals is covered only in cases of medical emergencies. I support the General Land Use Regulations and Procedures of Huerfano County; it’s on the county web site. Under Regulations for Areas & Activities of State Interest, number 7 states: “Regulate projects that would otherwise cause excessive noise, water, and/or pollution, or which could otherwise degrade or threatens the existing environmental quality within Huerfano County.” Safety First!

2)  An oil and gas drilling boom would be good Huerfano County. Yes/no: elaborate.  (Published in the papers as #1).

Brown: Yes: A moderate “boom” could have positive financial impacts for Huerfano County. Oil/gas drilling and production would provide jobs, income to local businesses, and increased revenue toward taxing districts. Since we are still in the exploratory phase, it is too early to predict any degree of “boom” level. We must, however, carefully address the “Boom & Bust” potential. I like the idea and program that was recently presented by Dale Lyons --- to try to reduce the impacts of both boom and bust. I would encourage the formation of a Task Force to work on this to help make our county better prepared.

Schneider: Yes and no: There are no guarantees with oil and gas, there are risks. The reality is that International markets can change, planning for the economy, protection of the environment and economic diversity to name a few. In Colorado 75% of its citizens use natural gas. There are about 40,000 gas and oil wells in production. Severance tax is levied on any extraction of metals, coal and oil and gas. These create huge revenues. The economic impact of the oil and gas industry on Colorado and the U.S. economies supply about 63% of the nation’s energy and is estimated to be worth over one trillion dollars or 7-8 % of U.S. GDP. We are still living in the Carbon era, trying to transition to greener and a more renewable form of energy. We can reduce our carbon footprint and be responsible parents, educators and adults by supporting the transition to a cleaner form of energy. We are not there yet. My hope is that if there is a discovery that this exploration becomes a model of safety.

3)  The current Huerfano Board of County Commissioners intervened in the Citizens for Huerfano County lawsuit against Shell and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) concurring with Shell's motion to dismiss CHC's claims, which ask for :

  • A) A public hearing in front of the COGCC,

  • B) A redo of a flawed permit to drill including failure to officially contact the Local Government Designee (LGD), John Galusha,

  • C) Compensation for legal expenses.

This case may continue into 2013. What legal position would you take as commissioner?

Brown: I have not been briefed on or been privy to the legal decisions and detailed reasons that led to the BOCC taking the action they did. If elected, my first action would be to be exposed to and updated on all those decisions and details. If the case is still pending in 2013, my legal position and subsequent action would depend on that information learned. Future potential for lawsuits of this nature would be greatly reduced or eliminated by proper and aggressive usage of the LGD position.

Schneider: I would ask that all of the above be heard and that we strengthen our local regulations so we can enforce and regulate the oil and gas industry in regards to safety.


4) Recently, Mike King, head of the Division of Natural Resources which oversees the COGCC, said that the LGD plays a critical role as an interface between the public, the county commissioners, and the COGCC. As commissioner, how would you instruct the LGD to perform that role? (Published in the papers as #2).

Brown:  As commissioner, I would strongly encourage the rest of the BOCC to fully utilize the LGD position as the direct link between the County and COGCC. The LGD should take aggressive action at the local level to keep the public informed about any new activity coming to the county to ensure transparency. The LGD should be the county respondent to COGCC to provide immediate local level knowledge or information in the event of any “red-flag” items or issues that may be crucial in the initial stages of a new permit application to COGCC. In addition, the LGD should supply to COGCC any and all critical and pertinent County conditions that would be attached on a new permit application to the county by an oil/gas developer. These county conditions can be attached to the state permit --- thus making them stronger. The LGD position would have to be assigned to someone with adequate time to address the needs and requirements of the job.

Schneider:  The LGD should be a proactive force and interact with the COGCC, oil and gas and citizens of the county. The LGD is the go-between.  I would ask the LGD to convene a meeting with the various parties in order to get feedback from all parties in order to know what is going on. As I have stated, the county website should be updated to provide citizens the right to interact and allow their local government to be transparent via a blog so as to get immediate responses to any issue. Additionally, the LGD should hold regular meetings regarding important oil and gas topics.


5) In Colorado there is legal tension between state and county regulations regarding oil and gas development. Some feel that the state should 'preempt' local government. Others feel that local government plays a necessary role in addressing particular regulations that are unique to each county. Please describe your position on this issue as a commissioner in Huerfano County. (Published in the papers as #3).

Brown: I am a firm believer in law and order. I don’t believe in opposing laws, regulations, rules or policies just because it doesn’t fit one’s personal agenda. However, our world is dynamic and ever-changing. If a law or regulation is found to be weak or can be proven to be in need of change, there are processes in place to do that. In county vs. state authority, those issues that are of statewide concern should be under State authority. If issues are truly unique and localized, they should be administered locally.
Schneider: Governor Hickenlooper’s Executive Order: B 2012-002, provides in Section C4: changes to existing laws and regulations and C5: suggested new laws and regulations, might provide a possible venue to strengthen local control via legal means. Local control gives authority to localities to provide more accountability and meet their specific needs. It is a cornerstone for education in the state of Colorado.

6)  According to the US Geological Service, Huerfano County is a "blank spot on the map in terms of hydro-geology”. Poor hydro-geo understanding led to huge problems with coalbed methane extraction in the Huerfano. If elected, would you request a county wide hydro-geology study? Yes/no. (Published in the papers as #4).

Brown:  Yes: Huerfano County should have complete information in terms of hydrogeology.

Schneider:  Yes

Would you vote for a moratorium until that study was finished? Yes/no: elaborate

Brown: (no answer to yes/no): Before I would commit to a moratorium, I would want answers to these questions:
   1. Who or what entity would conduct the study?
   2. How long would the study take to complete?
   3. Who would pay for the study?
If the funds were from a source other than Huerfano County, and if the project were to be conducted by a reliable entity or agency, and the time frame could be guaranteed to be reasonable without violating rights of landowners/mineral owners or exposing Huerfano County to lawsuits, then a moratorium could be considered.

Schneider: Yes


7)  Besides possible contamination issues, are there other risks to energy extraction here in Huerfano County? Yes/no: elaborate

Brown: Yes: There are other potential risks, including, but not necessarily limited to the following. There is potential for split estate issues. County officials should follow closely the possibility of the potential for conflicts in cases where the mineral rights are severed from the surface ownership. Huerfano County should keep this potential problem at the forefront in discussions with Shell or any other oil/gas developer, and should actively encourage and assist with mitigation or other resolution.
Other potential risks would include law enforcement concerns with the influx of transient workers; traffic concerns with the increase in usage on the county road system, increased vehicle accident potential, and thus increased need for medical/emergency responders.
If, in the event, the exploratory phase indicates increased drilling and production may be eminent, Huerfano County should take aggressive action and develop plans to be better prepared to reduce those potential impacts or risks. The BOCC should take the lead to ensure protection and reduce risks to the county.

Schneider: Yes: “A significant body of literature shows that boomtowns can harbor disproportionate increases in social problems such as crime, mental health problems, community dissatisfaction, education shortfalls, and other indicators. Research shows that certain groups of people will have different social reactions to rapid growth, depending on their stature in the community and whether they were residents before the growth occurred.” Source: Energy Boomtowns & Natural Gas: NERCRD Rural Development Paper No. 43.

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