The county has organized the Western and Rural Local Government Coalition, which represents 23 counties and municipalities on the West Slope and Eastern Plains. The coalition has become an active participant at state Air Quality Control Commission and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rulemakings.
After the AQCC adopted tougher rules on air emissions from oil and gas operations, nine coalition counties sued the commission arguing that it had not paid sufficient attention to local concerns and economic impacts.
They also argued that it was unfair to apply rules for large oil and gas operations in the heavily populated Front Range to smaller wells in rural areas. The lawsuit is pending in Denver District Court.
Garfield County is footing the bill for the coalition and the lawsuit, for which it has hired Denver-based Davis, Graham & Stubbs, one of the state’s biggest law firms.
In addition to attorneys, Garfield County has hired as advisers an economics consultant, an air quality engineer, a land use expert, former COGCC executive director Matt Lepore and Tommy Holton, a former COGCC commissioner.
“We need to make sure our voices are heard,” said Garfield County Commissioner John Martin. “It does take expertise and research and we don’t have that all in house and that’s why we are contracting.”
Garfield, which is the second largest county in Colorado for oil and gas activity, is following the largest oil and gas county, Weld, which has also intervened in rulemakings, set up its own well-permitting office, and unsuccessfully sued the AQCC.
Martin said Garfield County could face a multimillion-dollar drop in oil and gas production and property taxes if the industry is constrained by cumbersome rules, adding that those taxes provide most of the funding for school and fire districts in the county.
“It is not that we are just protecting fossil fuels, you have to look at the whole picture,” he said.