Pitkin County, leery of lawsuits, taps brakes in weighing new drilling rules

While not exactly a hotbed of natural gas drilling, according to the Aspen Times, Pitkin County – home to Aspen and the scenic Roaring Fork River Valley – does have some energy resources in the Thompson Creek Divide area just outside of Carbondale.

However, the Pitkin County commissioners are – depending on your point of view – either “moving cautiously” or dragging their feet on imposing more stringent land-use regulations that would strengthen water quality standards, require more detail in the drilling application process and address wildlife habitat, air quality, noise and visual impacts.

Already tentatively approved, the new county rules were put off for consideration by the board of commissioners from this week until Aug. 3, according to the paper. The county’s head planner, Cindy Houben, says the potential for litigation is one of the factors slowing down the process.

Oil and gas representatives at a hearing in March reportedly made some veiled threats about potential litigation if the county moves ahead with updating its land-use powers in the wake of year-old state drilling rules.

“We’ll be one of the first out of the gate with new regulations, so I’m sure there’s going to be some vulnerability there,” Houben told the Times. “We don’t want to just fold and not do things. We also don’t want to purposely step into something that isn’t worth the fight.”

There is, however, precedent for counties using land-use tools to regulate oil and gas drilling, which is normally the purview of the state. Neighboring Garfield County, for example, will hold land-use hearings for a proposed 200-well project in the Battlement Mesa community, and some activists there want the county to increase its drilling oversight. Gunnison County also has had success regulating some aspects of oil and gas drilling.

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