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County unveils draft regulations for oil and gas industry

By: DEBBIE KELLEY
November 1, 2011
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photo - A pumpjack is shown at sunset near Midland, Texas. Photo by COURTESY NOLAN HART
A pumpjack is shown at sunset near Midland, Texas. Photo by COURTESY NOLAN HART 

El Paso County has opened a two-week public comment period on draft regulations for the oil and gas industry, Craig Dossey, a project manager with the county’s development services department, said Tuesday.

The department on Monday sent copies to about 90 agencies, including local military bases, cities and towns in the region, water and metropolitan districts and other entities, he said.

 The regulations will be available for public review on the department’s web site, http://adm.elpasoco.com/Development%20Services/Pages/default.aspx later Tuesday. Comments are being accepted through Nov. 14.

The proposal consists of 24 pages of additions and changes to the county’s land use code to specifically address the energy development industry and 12 pages of procedures.

Various county departments, including the attorney’s office, engineering, planning and public health, worked on the document, Dossey said, after county commissioners hosted a summit and numerous public work sessions on the topic.

Commissioners enacted a four-month suspension of new applications for drilling activity on Sept. 29, pending the adoption of local regulations. Then, on Oct. 20, they altered the moratorium to allow one company, Ultra Resources, to submit applications for permits to drill three exploratory wells in unincorporated El Paso County. The state also issues permits and regulates a significant portion of drilling activity.

The intent of the county’s regulations Dossey said, is to complement the state’s system of policing and monitoring the industry by addressing local impacts to roads and the environment. The draft regulations “strike a happy medium” between policies other counties have created that are very strict or very minimal.

“We went as far as we could without creating operational conflicts,” he said. “We didn’t feel comfortable getting into areas like regulating fracking materials, which Sahwatch County and Elbert County’s draft regulations do – because that’s more of a state than a local issue.”

The section the county staff is most proud of, Dossey said, is the ground water monitoring that El Paso County Public Health is proposing.

“We went beyond what the state would normally require in terms of ongoing and long-term monitoring, and we’re still tweaking some areas, like exactly what we would test for,” he said.

Another focus of the draft regulations is mitigating impacts to local roads and traffic control for large-scale equipment.

After the public comment period closes, the Development Services Department will make an informal presentation to the county’s Planning Commission on Nov. 15.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and submit recommendations to the county commissioners in late November or December.

Commissioners will have the final say on the permanent regulations, which are expected to be adopted by the time the moratorium is lifted in late January.

 

 

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