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Decreasing oil and gas permits impacting Weld County businesses, local governments

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WELD COUNTY, Colo. -- Weld County is the epicenter of oil and gas development in Colorado.

The county has 20,532 active wells -- more than any other county -- accounting for 90 percent of Colorado's oil production.

But some say there is a problem: decreasing permits for new wells.

According to an analysis by FOX31, in 2017-2018, state regulators approved around 350 permits each month.

However, since the passage of SB 181 in April 2019, permits have been averaging around 148 a month -- a decrease of more than 50 percent.

Weld County is seeing the impact.

In 2017, 2,466 new permits were approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

By comparison, through October of this year, 1,470 new permits were approved for Weld County, with 880 being approved before SB 181 was signed into law.

Some in the area are concerned about the impact on the local economy.

Team Tom is a gym and T-shirt embroidery business located in Greeley.

Owner Tom Forsyth says his T-shirt business has suffered tens of thousands of dollars worth of losses in recent months because oil and gas clients aren't purchasing new shirts. Forsyth says they are telling him the reason is a decline in permitting.

"It definitely has slowed down," Forsyth said, adding, "They are saying they aren't getting new permits pulled so there is no new oil. so they  can't spend new money until they know what the ramifications will be."

Local governments are also monitoring impacts.

According to Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County will experience budget issues if the permitting trend continues.

In 2019, oil and gas companies were taxed around $490 million. The funds go toward things like firefighters, libraries and schools.

Weld County taxes energy companies based off production, which means wells approved for permits a few years ago are still actively producing large quantities of tax revenue. However, if permitting continues to decrease, production will eventually fall off.

"Millions of dollars will be impacted," Kirkmeyer said.

Any entity that relies on property tax will start seeing the impact of a drop in permits," Kirkmeyer added.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission officials tell FOX31 the drop in permitting is related to officials having to navigate the new oil and gas law.

COGCC says they are continuing to work with Weld County leaders, which have declared the county a 1041 county, giving local leaders more control.

Megan Castle, a spokeswoman for the COGCC, send the following statement:

"Since SB 19-181, COGCC has added four staff and made improvements to its permitting protocol to address permitting needs, as well as for Weld County's 1041 special energy district declaration. The number of permit numbers dipped under SB 19-181, to allow for the COGCC to create and implement criteria that views these applications in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife. Now, COGCC believes we will be permitting around 20 location permits each month and works with each operator on their priority list."

Of course, there are plenty of Coloradans pleased with the drop in permitting -- including Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising, a group that aims to "protect our communities from the dangers to public health and safety of fossil fuel operations – from extraction to combustion – to promote the transition off fossil fuels, and to protect our environment for future generations."

"Yes, if we want a livable planet, we must decrease the amount of permits being approved," Foster said.

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