“The Strategy” of the Regulations Discussed at the April 17 Study Session

At the April 17 Study Session, the Staff reviewed the 170-page revised version of the draft regulations which had been published four days previously.  Special Counsel Elizabeth Paranhos stated that the guiding principle in drafting the regulations was to make sure that they were within the bounds of the authority of local government as established by case law since “a bad court ruling could narrow the scope of local authority.”  Did the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee Legal Subcommittee understand their regulations would be filtered through that lens when they wrote their recommendations?  Is that what the public understood would happen when they voted for Charter Amendment 301 by a margin of 57.5% to 42.5%?  The public will have a chance to let Council know if this is the strategy they expected at the first reading of the regulations, which could occur as early as next week.

Director of Strategic Initiatives Tami Yellico stated that they will be scheduling a meeting with 301 representatives early next week to hear their recommendations to strengthen the regulations.  On p. 101 of the revised draft regulations, Staff plans include a first reading on April 24, second reading on May 22 and, if approved, the regulations would be effective 7 days later.  During Ms. Yellico’s comments, she also noted that Extraction Oil and Gas just sent a revised Comprehensive Drilling Plan to the City and that it was posted on the City’s Oil and Gas webpage.

The draft regulations included a “gap analysis” chart requested by Council to compare the draft regulations to the recommendations of the Legal Subcommittee of the Oil and Gas Comprehensive Plan Committee (Attachment 3).  According to Ms. Paranhos, high profile Update Committee recommendations like the buffer zone matrix (leveled setbacks), visual impacts or financial assurance could not be codified because all the regulations had to comport with existing case law.  Council Member Tessier stated that all of the language in the regulations “has to be worded so we don’t corner ourselves in a legal snafu.”  Council Member Shelton stated that we “don’t want regulations out there that have a chance of failing.”  Council Member Law-Evans asked the public to listen to Ms. Paranhos’ presentation and warned that Council “has to be strategic in how we move forward.”  (You can listen to the entire presentation here. )  Mayor Ahrens stated that the Comprehensive Plan should be considered only a “template” that suggested what was desired by the Committee.

Council Member Castriotta asked about plans for enforcing the regulations at “the time of the accidents that will occur.”  Ms. Paranhos admitted that “it was not possible to prevent all accidents” but felt that the “robust safety management plan would minimize the risk.”  Council Member Castriotta recalled it was the one year anniversary of the Firestone Anadarko explosion and paid respects to the two men who had lost their lives.  She added, “I would like to think we are dealing with an industry that is safer now, but we’ll see.”

Council Member Shaff asked about the possibility of adding further regulations if these were approved.  Ms. Yellico replied that they could always be amended by Council.  Council Member Shaff also asked if the number of Special Use By Review permits to oil and gas operators could be limited in a given period, to which Attorney Gilbert replied that it would have to be substantiated by a certain case being processed.

Council Members Groom, Erickson, Beacom and Jezerski did not ask questions during Item 7 on the Oil and Gas regulations.  Council Member Kreeger was absent.  A Legislative Update was also on the agenda but Mayor Ahrens postponed that until next week.