Fetcher: County should influence energy policy

Jay Fetcher said he's learned a lot about oil and gas development while campaigning for Colorado Senate District 8.

Mostly he's learned that surface owners need more protection when the ground is leased from underneath them.

Fetcher, a rancher from Clark, said if elected, he'll work to involve county commissioners in the gas development approval process.

But Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, says he has been working to protect surface owners for the past few years, and his opponent's plans are already under way in some counties.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioner regulates most oil and gas activity in the state. But counties can regulate energy development as long as county regulations don't conflict with those of the oil and gas commission, said Brian Macke, oil and gas commission executive director.

"I know there are some counties interested in being involved with oil and gas regulations," Macke said.

Fetcher announced his intentions to bring oil and gas regulations to a local level last week in Rifle, where a gas boom has brought wells literally into the back yards of surface owners.

"That massive development needs protection. The best protection is county commissioner protection," Fetcher said.

Fetcher described compressor stations that have been constructed in hay meadows. That essentially places an industrial site with high decibel level noise in an agricultural area. Fetcher said counties could play a greater role in controlling that.

He said he would call for higher reclamation bonds at development sites. The current bonds make it too easy for developers to walk away from a disturbed site and their money, he said.

But Fetcher said he probably wouldn't support giving surface owners a percentage of royalties from energy production, a measure some Moffat County residents had called for earlier this year.

"It's hard to justify getting money for something you don't own," Fetcher said.

Taylor said he has worked to establish surface owner protection since 1995, when he worked on legislation that would have required energy developers to compensate surface owners for damage done to their property. That legislation was never adopted.

"This is not anything new Fetcher's trying to work on. It's been worked on and it's being worked on," Taylor said.

During the summer, Taylor said he hosted two meetings in Denver to pressure gas developers to treat Garfield County surface owners fairly and the oil and gas commission to fulfill its obligation to enforce regulations.

Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director, said he sees room for county involvement in oil and gas regulations, but Moffat County prefers improving communications before adding rules.

"We would prefer working with companies and folks in them before we have to go to regulations," Comstock said.

When Moffat County negotiates mineral leases on county- owned mineral rights, development companies are required to sign a surface-use agreement with surface owners.

The county also offers suggestions for surface owners to consider when negotiating use agreements.

Suggestions include considering water rights, revegetation and soil erosion issues.

"That's a perfect step. If they've taken that step, that's great," Fetcher said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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