October 18, 2017
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After three meetings with a large working group, Weld County commissioners are working to establish a smaller working group of just six people. Three landowners and three oil and gas industry officials will work with Weld County Planning Director Tom Parko to bring recommendations back to the larger group. The smaller group is charged with looking at ways for mapping flow lines and gathering lines in a way everyone is comfortable with as well as dealing with land use issues related to unnoticed pipelines.
The lack of oversight, communication and general etiquette related to the oil and gas industry came into sharp focus Wednesday during the third meeting of oil and gas industry officials, Weld County commissioners and local landowners.
In two previous meetings, which centered on definitions for pipelines and how to bring more of those under the purview of county commissioners, members of the working group hadn’t come to any agreements and had mostly kept conversations surface-level.
On Wednesday, that changed, with landowners accusing oil and gas industry representatives of continuous intimidation tactics and public safety officials saying the industry must communicate better for the sake of public safety.
Landowner Dennis Hoshiko, who attended both previous meetings, said he’d repeat himself again, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record. His point? It doesn’t matter what kind of material is being transported in what size pipe. Oil and gas operators still have the trump card with eminent domain, and they continue to deal with him and other landowners in a hostile manner.
Hoshiko said he was there representing many farmers who couldn’t be at the meeting because they’re harvesting crops.
“There’s no use by right to come onto my property from miles down the road,” Hoshiko said. “I want to get that point across, because I don’t know that it’s being heard. Participating (in these meetings) is diminishing. Maybe it’s because we’re not going the direction we as landowners want to see.”
Hoshiko said companies continue to trespass on century-old irrigation ditches, routing pipelines underneath with no notice and increasing risks of accidents when landowners work on those ditches.
“I’ll second everything he has to say,” said George Maxey, longtime Weld County landowner.
Debate about definitions quickly went by the wayside after Hoshiko’s comments, when industry representatives said the group should talk about the real issues, something Platte Valley Fire Chief Barry Schaefer was happy to do when the conversation switched to pipeline mapping.
There was tacit agreement regarding mapping during the last meeting, although industry officials expressed concern about safety.
Schaefer broke down the issue.
“I understand you don’t want the information easy (to get),” Schaefer said. “But when it takes us six hours to find out who the owner of a line is when it’s exploding?”
Schaefer said that happened two years ago on Steve Wells’ ranch, adding that he had to threaten to use the sheriff’s office on six companies because nobody would claim the pipeline.
“We want to work with you, but we need to find a middle ground,” Schaefer said. “We need a way for us as emergency responders to access information rapidly.”
Schaefer said it has taken from 12 hours to days to find out who owns lines during emergency situations because some aren’t marked at all, and he requested some sort of map to at least be shared with emergency management people in the county.
Weld County Emergency Management Director Roy Rudisill agreed, recalling what officials have dubbed the “white truck festival,” when trucks from a variety of companies were called in to deal with an incident because the county couldn’t figure out who’s issue it was.
“We’re evacuating families from the residence, evacuating dairy farms,” Rudisill said. “Finally, when the gas quits blowing, we get a phone call four days later with, ‘Yeah, that was our line.’
“From an emergency management standpoint, we need (maps).”
Weld County requires a use by special review permit only for pipelines of a certain size on county land, and that’s one of the first issues commissioners attempted to address in the first oil and gas working group meetings. Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer continues to accuse oil and gas companies of flouting those rules by putting in two pipelines of smaller sizes so the companies aren’t forced to come before the Board of Weld County Commissioners for approval.
Industry officials, in past meetings, have said any change that roped in every single pipeline would be untenable, and would create a huge burden of both time and money.
Toward the end of the meeting, Weld County Commissioner Chairwoman recommended breaking into a smaller working group of three landowners and three oil and gas industry representatives. The belief, for Cozad and others, was that a smaller group might get more done.
Even then, Hoshiko’s frustration showed through. Like other landowners and farmers, he didn’t have a ton of time.
“I still haven’t found out a way to get paid for being at these meetings,” Hoshiko said. “I don’t say that to be derogatory to these people (oil and gas representatives), who all do a good job for their businesses.”
Still, Hoshiko agreed to attend electronically, or recruit other landowners to take part in the new, smaller, less-public meetings with Weld County Planning Director Tom Parko.
That smaller group’s recommendations will come back to the larger group at some point in the future, though a day or time hasn’t been set.
— Tyler Silvy covers government and politics for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter