Without consulting state regulatory officials, a county in Colorado last Thursday imposed a four-month moratorium on oil and gas drilling permits to allow time to establish local land-use and other regulations. The move prompted criticism from the director at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC).

In Colorado counties generally can set land-use regulations addressing setbacks, aesthetics, safety and some environmental aspects of drill sites. The state regulates the drilling and extraction that takes place both underground and on the surface of well sites.

In this case El Paso County has little oil and gas development, and the unsubstantiated prospect of an undisclosed energy company wanting to establish an exploratory drilling pad caused county staff to ask the elected commission to issue the moratorium to allow staff to draft rules governing new applications for permits.

OGCC Director Dave Neslin was quoted by local news media as saying a local moratorium was inappropriate, given what he called “robust” regulation at the state level to “foster responsible, balanced development.” The state regulatory process provides multiple opportunities for local governments’ input, Neslin said.

“We will work with local governments to understand and responsibly address their concerns.”

A call to the chief spokesperson for OGCC in Denver to determine what action, if any, state officials might take was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

An immediate fallout from the county’s action was that a major oil/gas developer canceled a tour of crude oil rigs in another county (Weld) for local officials that had been scheduled for Monday. Four commissioners, staff and some news media representatives were scheduled for the guided tour by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Anadarko did not confirm whether it had interest in drilling in El Paso County.

Weld County officials told local news media that “uncertainty of permitting” in El Paso County, which lies in east-central Colorado south of Denver, was the reason the tour was canceled. Colorado Springs is its major population center.

Ultra Petroleum and Oklahoma-based Continental Land Resources reportedly have permits to drill in El Paso County, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

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