Drilling in city parks? Council moving forward with oil and gas rules

October 22, 2012
photo - A drilling rig works at an oil well owned by Ultra Resources in unincorporated El Paso County. Photo by By Andrew Wineke, The Gazette archives
A drilling rig works at an oil well owned by Ultra Resources in unincorporated El Paso County. Photo by By Andrew Wineke, The Gazette archives 

The city of Colorado Springs is on the verge of adopting oil and gas regulations.

A City Council majority agreed Monday to move ahead with oil and gas regulations developed by the Planning Department and approved by the Planning Commission.

The council will take a formal vote Nov. 27.

Also on Monday, the council learned that the Parks Department was spending about $15,000 in administrative money from the Trails, Open Space and Parks conservation program to find out if the city owns the mineral rights under Corral Bluffs and Bluestem Open Space.

Council members questioned whether drilling could occur on city parks - and if the city could do the drilling.

“If you want us to answer the question – Can the city drill in its own parks if it has mineral rights? – we can do research on the question,” City Attorney Chris Melcher said.

“I don’t know the answer to that. We have to do a fair amount of research,” he said.

Melcher said the city started to look at who owns the mineral rights to make sure a private party, such as Texas-based Ultra Resources, which is drilling in unincorporated El Paso County, wouldn’t surprise the city.

“The idea was not whether or not the city could drill,” he said.

City Councilman Tim Leigh said he would be willing to give up some dedicated open space if the city could fund the operations of all other city parks in return.

“What an amazingly creative, out of the box opportunity,” he said. “But to get there, we have to move forward with an ordinance and get drilling approved and started.”

Council members gave the proposed oil and gas regulations the go-ahead with one caveat: The city will re-evaluate them in 12 months based upon three factors, including the status of statewide oil and gas initiatives proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“The governor’s initiatives are really interesting because some of the things that I think council and other folks have been looking for might wind up being a state mandate,” Kyle Campbell, interim planning director, said after the council meeting.

“The question is, if we wait a little while longer, somewhere in that 12-month period, the state may catch up and create statewide regulations that then take away the need to create them here locally,” he said.

The governor’s proposed initiatives include enhanced testing to assure well-bore integrity, comprehensive water sampling before a well is drilled, developing setbacks for wells in high density areas, and controlling fugitive methane emissions from wells.

“Two of the rule-making efforts were initiated just last week, and that was on the water quality testing and the setbacks. We’re still digesting them,” Campbell said.

“The two other rule-making efforts that the governor is looking at are going to be initiated at a later time,” he said. “There’s still a lot of activity at the state level.”

In the meantime, the city will work to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the state dealing with inspections. Campbell said the so-called IGA would “probably” mirror Gunnison County’s, which allows it to hire its own inspectors. Colorado has more than 48,000 active wells, but the state government has only 13 field inspectors.

“If the state inspectors can’t get to the site as often as the city feels comfortable with, the city can create a program that allows them to have their own inspectors,” Campbell said.

But the need for such a program will depend on the volume of oil and gas activity in Colorado Springs, which is another factor the council will consider when re-evaluating the regulations in a year.

“We don’t know how many wells are going to be in the city,” Campbell said. “If we get to the end of the year and there’s only five wells that have been drilled, there might not then be a desire to create a separate, standalone inspection group.”

El Paso County commissioners are expected to pass a resolution Tuesday to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which will rescind the water sampling requirement passed earlier this year.

“We’re more in agreement with COGCC than we were on the water sampling requirement,” said county administrator Jeff Greene. “This is the right direction for the county. We support a regional approach and hope the city can come to a similar agreement.”

-Staff writer Bob Stephens contributed to this report.

Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
Twitter @danieljchacon
Facebook Daniel Chacon

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