New interest in 1041 powers as GarCo study reveals gas drilling health risks

A grassroots group of citizens battling a major natural gas drilling proposal in their Western Slope community has been given the nod to at least show Garfield County officials how they can perhaps exercise a modicum of local control.

Battlement Concerned Citizens (BCC) in Battlement Mesa has engaged an attorney who feels the unincorporated community of more than 5,000 residents along Interstate 70 could be an ideal test case for exercising county 1041 powers that could in some respects trump state regulatory authority over natural gas drilling.

County 1041 powers are typically used to assert local control over infrastructure projects such as water diversion and storage, power lines and roads. The law has never been used to regulate oil and gas drilling, which is under the purview of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Over the summer, the three-member Garfield Board of County Commissioners had the county attorney investigate 1041 powers and the conclusion was that Battlement Mesa didn’t necessarily qualify as a new area of “special state interest” and that 1041 didn’t really apply. But the commissioners still directed the county attorney to get with the BCC lawyer to explore their differences.

Now two of the three commissioners want a formal presentation on 1041 powers, according to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, while Republican John Martin didn’t seem to see the point of such an exercise.

One point may be that Battlement Mesa residents are now more concerned than ever about the potential impacts of up to 200 new natural gas wells in their community. The county on Monday released a draft version of a health impact study that concludes there could be significant air quality issues if Denver-based Antero Resources moves ahead with its drilling plan. Those residents, therefore, want more local control.

The Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment (HIA), in the works for nearly a year, was conducted by the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health. Garfield County paid for the study from its oil and gas mitigation fund.

Here are some excerpts from the executive summary:

“The Antero natural gas development plan is likely to change air quality and produce undesirable health impacts in residents living in close proximity throughout the community. Air quality is most likely to be acutely impacted during well pad construction and well completion stages and by truck traffic.

“Long-term compromise of air quality is possible if fugitive emissions from production equipment are not controlled and the impacts to air quality are expected to occur constantly and/or reoccur. Children, older adults, and individuals with respiratory diseases may be more vulnerable to the air contaminants and could experience short-term and/or long-term disease.”

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