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State Regulators Question Drilling Moratorium

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Colorado oil and gas regulators are questioning El Paso County's decision to impose a four-month moratorium on drilling permits after county officials were warned about plans for large-scale drilling in the county.

Dave Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said regulators do not believe a local moratorium is appropriate. He said the state provides sufficient regulation and local officials did not discuss the temporary ban with the commission.

Under state law, counties can set land use regulations to address such issues as setbacks, environmental aspects and site safety. They also are worried about impacts to roads and ensuring adequate and safe water supplies.

The state regulates drilling and extraction activity that happens beneath the surface.

El Paso County has no local rules. Staff members warned the county commission last week that an undisclosed energy company was considering setting up large-scale exploration pad sites soon.

The story was first reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

County officials say the four-month suspension would give county leaders more time to create local land use regulations and set up a permit process.

The moratorium has upset oil companies, which have been leasing mineral rights on thousands of acres, primarily in the east and southeast portions of the county.

Four commissioners, four county staff and a few media representatives were scheduled to visit oil and gas exploration and production sites in Weld County on Monday, but the tour was canceled because of the moratorium. Ron Tech, the county's intergovernmental operations officer and organizer of the trip, said company officials were miffed.

"They had developed a perception that minds have been made up and a tour for educational purposes would be a waste of everyone's time," Tech said.

Commission Chairwoman Amy Lathen said the tour was important to educate county officials on the permit process and she was sorry it was canceled.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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