Weld County officials move forward on oil and gas regulations | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld County officials move forward on oil and gas regulations

Catherine Sweeney
csweeney@greeleytribune.com

Weld County has some oil and gas regulations in the pipeline that could give companies a faster and easier permitting process, but officials say they give surface owners and neighbors more of a voice.

The proposed rules would cut the hearing requirement for most oil and gas projects, give the planning department more power, mandate companies to get surface owners on board with their plans and would make the county fill in more people about nearby projects.

Instead of going through two time-intensive hearings, every project would go through a behind-the-scenes process with the planning department — unless planners see unavoidable problems or the project raises issues with surface owners or neighbors.

The rules looked pretty different when they were introduced last year. Every project would have had to go through a special permitting process that required hearings.

The county commissioners postponed talks for almost a year because they wanted to nail down more details before voting on them. The wait ended Monday morning.

Officials will meet once more on the new rules.

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"I think this is a much better process (than the first one proposed)," Commissioner Julie Cozad said during the Monday meeting. "It makes sure that surface owners are protected, as well as mineral owners."

She said it was more streamlined, as well.

The planning department would handle and approve almost every case.

"If there's anything that's contentious, those (cases) will all come in front of the board of county commissioners," said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer.

The planning department would require the company to sign an agreement with surface owners before the application can be approved. Without it, the case would go before the board.

The county requires companies to notify residents within 500 feet of a project during the application process. State regulators require companies to notify people within 1,000 feet, and Weld County bumped their number up to 1,000 to match.

Although the original pitch talked about requiring oil and gas companies to get a USR for any project, commissioners had hoped to find a way to make that an administrative process from the beginning, Commissioner Chairman Mike Freeman said after Monday's meeting.

This year, commissioners created rules on solar farms. The technology is so new to Weld, the county code didn't address it explicitly.

It made the solar companies go through the two-hearing USR process for every project. But the proposed oil and gas regulations illustrate the track other regulations could be on, Kirkmeyer said. They evolve.

"We continue to look for the flexibility within our land-use code," she said. "If this works, and we still get good results … I know I will be looking for other areas (we can use rules like these)."

Commissioner Cozad also has recommended applying an administrative process to solar regulations.

What’s next?

The Board of Weld County Commissioners is slated to vote on its new oil and gas rules in late November, but industry representatives have asked for more meetings, so that date might get pushed.

If it doesn’t, the board will vote at 9 a.m. Nov. 28 in the county administration building, 1150 O. St.