City oil and gas regulations rejected in tie vote

NED B. HUNTER Updated: March 12, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: March 12, 2013

After months of debate, Colorado Springs City Council members remain divided on the issue of oil and gas drilling within the city.

A four-to-four vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would have established drilling regulations means the ordinance failed; the issue will now be up to the next council after April’s elections.

But the ordinance’s failure does not eliminate the prospect of oil and gas drilling within the city limits, said councilwoman Angela Dougan.

“They can still drill within the city under state permits,” she said after the vote. “It just means we lose our seat at the table.”

The final vote came nearly four months after an initial 6-3 vote in favor of the regulations.

On Tuesday, in the final vote, Dougan and council members Tim Leigh, Merv Bennett and Bernie Herpin voted in favor of the ordinance. Council President Scott Hente and council members Jan Martin, Val Snider and Brandy Williams voted against the regulations; councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko was absent.

Williams originally voted in favor of the ordinance in November. She said Tuesday she changed her vote because neither state regulations nor the city’s ordinance require the type of stringent water quality testing she feels the industry needs.

“To me, water is the most important thing,” she said after the meeting, “and water testing and control are just not strong enough.”

Hente said it likely will take several months before any ordinance regarding drilling regulations is reintroduced to the council.

“But we need to realize that this is not resolved,” he said.

That lack of resolution worries Dave Gardner, a member of the  Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights, which has rallied against the prospect of drilling within the city. At Tuesday’s meeting, his group asked council members to add an amendment to the city’s November ballot that would allow residents to vote to ban oil and gas drilling within the city.

“We have to remain ever vigilant,” Gardner said, “and make sure the new City Council does its due diligence.”

Just as local drilling regulations are in limbo, so is oil and gas exploration in the area. Ultra Resources, a Houston-based company that has drilled in eastern El Paso County and owns 18,000 acres of the 21,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch on the east side of the city, recently announced it was shelving plans for further drilling, citing disappointing results from its efforts in the county.  Another company, Hilcorp Energy, has yet to report the results of its drilling in the county.

Ultra has vertically drilled and hydraulically fractured, or fracked, one of its three county wells. Fracking is the use of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to blast petroleum products free from underground shale and other rock formations. Test results from Ultra’s fracked well showed oil within El Paso County to be “immature” and unsuitable for commercial use; Ultra is now awaiting Hilcorp’s results.

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