Aug. 07–The Board of County Commissioners took a step Monday toward changing the way oil and gas industry companies construct pipelines in Weld County — but officials emphasized that doesn’t mean the plan is complete.
The commissioners heard from oil and gas operators and local landowners before giving unanimous initial approval to an ordinance that spells out a new process for most oil and gas pipelines, altering the way oil and gas companies receive permits to operate natural gas and petroleum pipelines in Weld County.
The commissioners will likely discuss the ordinance two more times — and potentially make changes — before a final vote in September. The ordinance is the result of a series of meetings between county officials, oil and gas operators and local landowners.
Among the biggest impacts of the ordinance is a shift from the Weld County’s use by special review process to an administrative process called the location assessment for pipelines. For operators, the change would mean that instead of going through hearings with the commissioners and Weld County Planning Commission when they’re seeking to install new pipelines, they would work more closely with the county’s planning department in the new administrative process. The new process also requires operators to give the county more in-depth maps of their pipeline projects.
During Monday’s meeting, oil and gas operators agreed uniformly that the administrative process would create a more efficient way to get approval for pipelines. But they said they still had major concerns.
“The shift toward an administrative process approval for pipelines is appreciated and our hope is that it will streamline the process and save the county and industry time, effort and money,” said Ryan Seastrom, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s community outreach manager.
But he added that the association still has concerns: “One is related to the pipeline depths under the roadways.”
Under the proposed change, operators would have to put pipelines 20 feet below high-traffic roads, 15 feet below medium-traffic and paved local roads and 10 feet below gravel roads and other county property where roads don’t yet exist.
Doug Dennison, community affairs director for HighPoint Resources, said the requirements create a lot of work for the company in areas of the county that wouldn’t necessarily be used by the county, anyway. Dennison said his company operates near county property that doesn’t currently contain a county road, but under the new process, would be required to place pipelines 10 feet below the ground. His concern is that the property wouldn’t be used for a county road in the near future.
Jeannette Jones, the engineering manager of Noble Midstream, said the company also is concerned that the current ordinance didn’t set a timeline for when the administrative process would be implemented.
“We have several projects that are currently underway and that could face uncertain timelines,” she said. “We have two known projects in progress that would be impacted.”
The commissioners also heard from the other side of the discussion as landowner Dennis Hoshiko, who had an equal share of concerns. In a few areas, he said, the ordinance doesn’t go far enough. He said he thinks the ordinance, which applies to all pipelines 12 inches in diameter or larger in its current form, should include all sizes.
“The proposed rules are deficient because they exclude natural gas pipelines that are less than 12 inches in diameter,” he said. “The diameter of a pipeline, or the substance it conveys, is for the most part irrelevant to landowners because pipeline easements can often be up to 60 feet in width, which is the width of a two-lane county road in Weld County. Pipeline easements perpetually encumber and severely limit the lands they pass through and occupy virtually forever.”
— 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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