If you’ve ever wondered who really runs the show in Garfield County look no further than Monday’s BOCC meeting. (Click here to watch — advance to 4:22, runs about 1 hour) In a sickening display of capitulation, the Commissioners blatantly ignored the recommendations of the entire Planning Commission, plus Michael Sullivan, alternate commissioner, and Kirby Wynn, the oil & gas liaison, and bowed to the rule of WPX Energy.
Garfield County commissioners this week decided that pits used to hold fluids used for so-called remote hydraulic fracturing sites are exempt from county land-use review.
The commissioners’ decision means that the pits are a use-by-right in the county, something that has generated some concern over the potential for odor impacts to residents.
WPX Energy asked for the action by commissioners, in an attempt to clarify the county’s land-use code. Remote frack sites are used to frack wells via pipeline at multiple pads sometimes miles away, which can have benefits including reducing truck trips to each pad and allowing for smaller pads …
Maybe it’s just me. But I watched the video of the public hearing and it sure didn’t look to me like WPX was asking for clarification of the county’s land-use code. They re-wrote it and then bitch-slapped the commissioners in the face with it. At times Commissioner Jankovsky seemed to be testifying on behalf of WPX.
Okay so, remote fracking is done from a staging area that contains tanks and equipment and is connected by pipelines to remote well pads. Remote fracking is regulated by the COGCC. Garfield County considers the process a use-by-right and therefore it is exempt from land-use review. Likewise for tanks and equipment on remote fracking sites which are considered part of the use-by-right.
Open pits are a whole different deal. In Garfield County, open pits are not use-by-right. They are subject to a permitting process that includes a land-use review. The county’s land-use code does not make a distinction between a wastewater pit and a remote fracking pit. Open pits are referred to as water impoundments. WPX reps at Monday’s meeting claimed there is a difference between wastewater pits and fracking pits. Evidently the commissioners bought their rationale.
Back to the remote fracking site. Tanks are use-by-right. Pits are not. That doesn’t mean pits are prohibited at remote fracking sites. It just means the operators have to request permission. Play by the rules.
In January, WPX demanded that fracking pits at remote fracking sites in Garfield County be exempt from the permitting process.
… WPX regulatory specialist Ashlee Fechino told the county in a Jan. 28 letter that it didn’t make sense that tanks are exempted, but if WPX uses pits it is “subject to expensive and time-consuming permitting requirements with Garfield County” …
… WPX prefers to have the option of using pits for reasons including their ability to handle high volumes of fluids. Fechino said the pits are subject to strict operating requirements by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and WPX is trying to avoid going through another layer of permitting …
Click on this link to review all the exhibits at Monday’s public hearing: Text Amendment to the Garfield County Land Use and Development Code Hyrdraulic Fracturing, Remote Surface Facilities and Water Impoundment Definitions. The WPX letter is Exhibit H (Page 14).
What should not go unmentioned was Planning Manager Tamra Allen’s lengthy and in-depth presentation outlining the reasons why pits are pits and how they got to be permitted in the first place and why they should remain permitted and subject to land-use review. More simply put:
… The county’s Planning Commission unanimously opposed the pit exemption, arguing that it’s difficult to distinguish between remote fracking pits and the wastewater impoundment pits that are subject to county review.
An alternative member of that commission, Michael Sullivan, voiced concern to county commissioners about the county making the remote frack pits a use-by-right in every zoning category in the county, including residential areas.
“Tanks close to residential areas are bad enough. I believe open pits next to any residential zone are a failure on our part to protect the citizens,” he said.
But it wasn’t only Tamra Allen’s and Michael Sullivan’s voices in opposition. Even Kirby Wynn spoke up.
… Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gas liaison, told commissioners this week, “At times open pits can cause some real serious odor issues.”
He said some of the most difficult and longstanding, almost unfixable problems he has to deal with involve resident complaints about pit odors …
Actually he was talking specifically about an ongoing problem with an open pit located in Dry Hollow, south of Silt. Of course that’s when the WPX reps got defensive and talked about the difference between a remote fracking pit and a wastewater pit and the discussion heated up from there. The testy exchanges between Kirby Wynn and the WPX reps left me wondering if he’ll have his job for long. However he failed to grasp the opportunity to drive home a vital point which was then lost forever. The WPX reps insisted they are the good guys in the white hats and they are responsible and they don’t make mistakes — er if they do they fix them. Kirby failed to say: “You are not the only operators in this county.”
WPX demanded that fracking pits be included as use-by-right at remote fracking sites because permitting is a big hassle. And they won’t ever abuse that privilege because they are WPX and they are the good guys. So the commissioners rolled over and voted unanimously to allow the exemption even though the staff was unanimously against it. The exemption applies to all operators in Garfield County — not just the good guys.
And who inspects those remote fracking sites? They don’t call them remote for nothing.