Arapahoe County now has a formal process for permitting oil and gas exploration.
In a unanimous vote April 30, the county commissioners approved not only an administrative procedure, but a companion memorandum of understanding, the two major documents that oil and gas companies, like ConocoPhillips, have been waiting on for almost two years.
While the MOU is voluntary for oil and gas operators, Arapahoe County Senior Planner Sherman Feher says the two are essentially tied at the hip.
Feher went on to explain the connection. “What this is, basically, is a quid pro quo situation,” he said. “Operators would agree to more stringent standards than the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission stipulates, then in exchange, the county would provide an accelerated administrative process with lower fees.”
Thomas Dugan, an attorney for ConocoPhillips, applauded the decision, saying the open exchange of information with council and staff resulted in reasonable and workable documents.
“I’ve been through this public process a hundred times, and in my experience, this had been a very organized process and your staff should be commended,” said Dugan.
South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce President John Brackney called the decision critical to the state’s future.
“There’s a bigger picture here, and it’s jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Brackney. “We at the South Denver Metro Chamber have always believed that energy policy should be one of our highest priorities.
But not everyone was happy about the decision.
Sonia Skakich-Scrima, founder of “What the Frack?! Arapahoe,” a grassroots alliance of citizens that works to change local ordinances dealing with oil and gas extraction, asked the council to consider a moratorium and rewrite the MOU to better address legal and environmental concerns.
“Oil and gas exploration is an industry,” said Patrick Pratt, public policy director with the South Metro Denver Chamber. “No one ever said there wouldn’t be an impact, but the fact is the MOU takes into consideration the concerns of the county and of the citizens, and this has long-term value for our county and state.”