Boulder County Commissioners approve drafting new regulations for phased approach to oil and gas development

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Boulder County, Colo. – The Board of County Commissioners today directed staff to propose options for permitting oil and gas development in a phased manner, allowing only a limited number of wells in a given period, once the moratorium on new oil and gas development expires on June 10. 

The County Commissioners cited the need for further studies on the public health impacts of oil and gas development and decried the lack of authority to adequately regulate oil and gas operations at the local level. They also indicated that phasing in approval of oil and gas development may help mitigate the risks associated with concentrated impacts to air and water quality, surrounding land uses and public health and the environment.

As part of the approved motion today, the Commissioners recommitted to a multi-pronged approach to improving the way oil and gas development is regulated to ensure public health, safety, and the environment are adequately protected, including setting the strongest local regulations possible under current state law while simultaneously pursuing changes at the state legislature and at two key state agencies, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Their actions authorized staff to process Land Use Code amendments to Article 12 (new oil and gas regulations) to include a phasing program for Development Plan Review applications or permits. Staff will be exploring this idea based off the direction given on May 16 and May 21. As part of the phased-in regulatory program the Commissioners also requested staff to develop an inspection and monitoring program to evaluate the effectiveness of the regulations.

Any new code amendments require Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners review and approval; consequently, the proposed amendments will be the subject of a joint Planning Commission and BOCC hearing scheduled for Wednesday, June 5 at 5 p.m. (public testimony will be taken), with the BOCC to take action on the amendments at a public meeting on Thursday, June 6 at 3:30 p.m. (no public testimony taken).

Today’s actions by the Board concluded a long and detailed public process (22 public meetings, hearings and open houses in all that included a vast amount of input from the public and an extensive legal review by counsel both from within the county and from outside attorneys with an expertise in oil and gas matters. Throughout the entire 15-month public discussion, the county commissioners explored all options available to the county while listening intently to the comments and concerns from residents about potential health, safety and environmental impacts of allowing new oil and gas development in Boulder County. 

Statements from the Board of County Commissioners (In order of discussion at the May 21, 2013 public hearing)

Elise Jones: I supported an extension of a moratorium for two more years based on the need for more data and studies to fully research and understand the public health impacts from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. However, in lieu of that, I also support my fellow commissioners’ proposed phasing approach to restrict new development under our new set of oil and gas regulations because it will help reduce impacts out of the gate and allow us more time to measure fracking emissions and do what we need to do to protect our residents and clean air and incredible natural resources that make Boulder County such a special place to live

Deb Gardner: There is no doubt we need to pursue a path forward that will protect the health and safety of the people and environment of Boulder County. The COGCC’s setbacks of gas wells to residential dwellings adopted in the last rulemaking session, for example, appear extremely arbitrary in nature, and in the face of no definitive health data, provide inadequate protections. In terms of lifting the temporary moratorium, the specific work required to keep the moratorium in place has been completed, and therefore I believe it should be lifted as planned. However, I will continue to work with my colleagues to find a way to impose regulations that are the most stringent in the state, and that by adopting a “go slow” phased approach to approving new permits, and requiring trained inspectors and technical experts to oversee drilling operations, we will be able to more closely monitor the impacts to our air and water quality and pursue options as necessary to protect the public’s health. 

Cindy Domenico: I believe it’s imperative that the county do everything in its power to adopt and enforce the most protective regulations we can with the authority we have to work with. This effort has been one of our biggest priorities over the past 15 months. We have committed a significant amount of staff resources and where required, sought additional, expert outside legal and technical advisors to help us work on all of these fronts to protect our residents, our landscape and our environment. Our priority throughout this public discussion has been to protect the health of our residents and our community. I am confident that we have adopted the strongest land use regulations in the state of Colorado and that our legal team has provided the most comprehensive legal analysis possible to guide us in making these most difficult decisions. I furthermore believe that the regulations we’ve adopted can be used as a model for other communities to help limit the impacts of oil and gas development in their local jurisdictions. Nevertheless, while I feel our regulations are as stringent as they can be, there is still much uncertainty associated with this type of oil and gas development, and I am as committed as ever to fight for more local control over oil and gas extraction operations in Boulder County.

Background on the Moratorium
The temporary moratorium on Boulder County’s processing of applications for oil and gas development was first enacted in February 2012 for a duration of six months, expiring August 2, 2012. The purpose of the moratorium was to allow time to evaluate the adequacy of the current county Comprehensive Plan, land use regulations, and related documents governing oil and gas development, in light of growing public health, safety and welfare concerns. Finding six months an inadequate period of time to complete the necessary work, in April 2012 the Board extended the moratorium to last a full year, expiring February 4, 2013. During this period, the Planning Commission approved Comprehensive Plan changes on August 15, 2012 and the County Commissioners approved a sweeping set of amendments to the Land Use Code in December 13, 2012. Approximately one month later, on January 24, 2013, the Commissioners further extended the moratorium to June 10, 2013 to allow time for county staff to properly prepare to process permits under the new regulations. Due to the complicated nature of the new restrictions, requirements, standards and conditions that replaced 19-year-old rules for how oil and gas development can occur on unincorporated lands, staff had asked for adequate time to create an Implementation Work Plan. Most recently, on May 16, 2013, the Board adopted a transportation impact fee and associated set of Land Use Code amendments, effectively meeting the moratorium’s criteria for accomplishing a specific achievable purpose for a set amount of time to achieve that purpose.

For more information about the county’s role in oil and gas development, please visit the county’s Oil and Gas Development webpage or contact Jim Webster at 720-564-2600 or

Barbara Halpin
Boulder County Public Information Officer

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