Oct. 08–The Board of Weld County Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance Monday that changes the way oil and gas companies operate pipelines in Weld County, wrapping up more than a year of meetings with landowners, county officials and oil and gas industry representatives.
The board extended the discussions about the ordinance into Monday’s meeting, taking comments from Ryan Seastrom of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, who said the organization is happy with the changes, and landowner Dennis Hoshiko, who said he is apprehensive about them.
The new process is a shift from the county’s current use by special review process to an administrative process called the location assessment for pipelines.
The procedure means that when operators are seeking to install new pipelines, they will work more closely with the county’s planning department, instead of going through hearings with the commissioners and Weld County Planning Commission. The ordinance also adds a mapping requirement that would give the county a more in-depth look at the pipeline projects.
Hoshiko, who has participated in the meetings since they were started, said he initially thought the board’s decision to streamline the process by issuing permits administratively seemed like a good idea. But his feelings were different Monday, just before the commissioners voted to approve the ordinance.
“I must tell you in the strongest possible terms that I’m extremely apprehensive, thoroughly frustrated and very unhappy about the way things currently stand,” he said.
For one, he said, the process won’t allow for public input because it is an administrative process handled by planning department officials, not an open meeting where residents can comment.
While it is true that most pipeline decisions will happen administratively under the new rules, if there is a conflict between the operator and the landowner that county staff can’t resolve, they’ll take it to the commissioners for a hearing.
Hoshiko also said the regulations exclude “many of the kinds of pipelines that adversely affect me and other private property owners, and as things stand now, will continue to plague us in the future.”
Weld County’s new pipeline rules will go into effect Feb. 1.
Since the early stages of the discussion, Hoshiko has expressed concern that the ordinance doesn’t apply to all sizes of pipelines, just those that are 12 inches in diameter or larger. Private property owners, unlike the county, he said, don’t have the authority to require companies to obtain permits to install pipelines of any size or kind under their property.
“So if the county doesn’t regulate all non-use-by-right pipelines under these codes, then private property owners will be reduced to second-class citizens when it comes to unregulated pipelines because there won’t be any government authority requiring pipeline companies to notify us or make a genuine effort to obtain permits from us,” he said.
Tom Parko, the county’s planning director, said new requirements were added to the location assessment for pipelines specifically to address landowners’ concerns. The new rules, which were not part of the previous use by special review process, for instance, require oil and gas companies to provide a statement about how they would mitigate any conflicts with irrigation ditch companies or ditch easement owners who own land that the pipeline would pass through.
“The current USR process doesn’t even mention trying to mitigate conflicts,” he said. “We’ve actually included new provisions in the LAP process to try to address the issues that are going on with the ditch companies.”
Hoshiko said he agreed, but added that the regulations don’t go far enough.
“When you leave out virtually half of the pipelines that are being installed, will be installed and already have been installed in the county through this process, they’re incomplete,” he said.
It’s simple, he said.
“All private property owners ask is for these rules to require pipeline companies to notify us and make a bonafide effort to obtain permits from us before the county gives them approval to build their pipelines across our lands and irrigation ditch easements,” he said. “We’ll take care of ourselves after that.”
For Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, the process was never to change the county’s regulations — it was intended to move away from a use by special review process to an administrative one. She said the county still plans to address other issues.
“The whole purpose of this ordinance change wasn’t about changing what we were doing with our regulations, but it was really to try to get to and better the USR process and get to an administrative process,” she said. “At some point, we still need to talk about the other issues that are still in front of the board with regard to produced lines and the size of the line, especially with respect to irrigation companies with irrigation ditches. We’re still an agriculture county and agriculture is still as important to me as oil and gas is, maybe more so.”
— Sara Knuth covers government for The Tribune. You can reach her at (970) 392-4412, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraKnuth.
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