News Archive

March 23, 2017

Boulder County adopts strongest set of regulations on oil and gas development in the State of Colorado


The regulations will apply to oil and gas development applications
filed after May 1, 2017


Boulder County, Colo. - At a public
meeting on Thursday, March 23, the Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt
new regulations for oil and gas operations in the unincorporated areas of
Boulder County. The new regulations are considered to be the most stringent in
the state of Colorado and will serve to employ the county’s land use authority
to protect local public health and the environment. The regulations will apply
to oil and gas development applications filed after May 1, 2017.

During their
deliberations, the county commissioners expressed their continued regret and
frustration that state law preempts local control in many areas of oil and gas
development. They also affirmed their ongoing multi-pronged approach to gaining
more local control over oil and gas extraction activities.

The first prong in protecting Boulder County's community and
environmental interests was accomplished today by adopting the toughest
possible regulations anywhere in the state of Colorado. Additional areas of
focus will be discussed at a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 25 at
11 a.m. in the Commissioners' Hearing Room in Boulder.

Statements from the Board of County Commissioners

“Without a tough set of regulations in our Land Use Code, we
risk losing the ability to protect our community from oil and gas activity that
is currently allowed under state law,” said Deb Gardner, Chair of the Boulder County Commissioners. “If we didn’t
adopt these regulations today, and we lost the lawsuit currently filed against
us by the Colorado Attorney General and members of the oil and gas industry,
our old outdated regulations would stand in place - and we can’t afford to have
that happen.”

Commissioner Elise Jones said,
“We and the State of Colorado do not agree on where the authority over local drilling
operations should lie. But, by working with staff, legal counsel, and members
of the public for many years to get these regulations as protective as possible, we
are confident that these new regulations are by far the most comprehensive and protective
local regulations in Colorado. While we wish we could completely control or
prevent all aspects of oil and gas development within Boulder County, we are
doing everything we can under the current law to protect our local air, water,
public health, and the environment with these new regulations.”

Commissioner Cindy
Domenico
added, “Like everyone we’ve heard from over the past several
years, we are very concerned about the potential for expanded oil and gas
activity in Boulder County. The intensive drilling operations that we see along
the Northern Front Range of Colorado are heavily industrial in nature. We need to
have in place strong new regulations that maximize our ability to use our land
use authority – one of the few local control tools we have under current state
law - to protect our residents and the environment.“

“This is an important step in our approach to addressing
concerns about oil and gas development raised by our residents,” added
Commissioner Domenico. “But this is only one piece of the puzzle. We
will continue to examine every option available to us.”

“The oil and gas
industry has already sent lawyers to Boulder County to claim that these new
regulations go too far,” added Commissioner Gardner. “We felt there was too much at stake for our residents to
expose them to our outdated regulations and leave the county vulnerable to much
more intensive drilling operations than when we passed our last set of
regulations in 2012.”

Commissioner Jones closed
by saying, “The regulations are not enough, but they are necessary. We
acknowledge that they alone do not give us enough control over what happens
within the boundaries of Boulder County when it comes to oil & gas
development. On April 25 we will talk about the many other ways that we are
working to address this effort on all fronts.”

Background

In May 2016,
Colorado Supreme Court rulings invalidated fracking bans and long-term
moratoria. These rulings called into question a Boulder County moratorium that
was scheduled to expire in July 2018.

After the Colorado
Supreme Court rulings, Boulder County terminated its prior moratorium and adopted
a new, temporary moratorium, which is set to expire May 1, 2017. Early in 2017, the Colorado Attorney General and oil and gas industry groups challenged the county’s latest moratorium in court.

The county
enacted the new moratorium in order to provide the county with enough time to
review and update the oil and gas regulations that were adopted in 2012, and to
prepare for implementation of those regulations. In the time since the last
regulations were adopted, significant changes have taken place in the ways that
industry extracts oil and gas in communities along the Colorado Front Range.
Specifically, the trend is towards large-scale, consolidated facilities that
leave a much larger footprint and have much greater impact on the communities
in which they reside.

The new 2017 regulations
address these (and other) concerns that were not adequately
covered under the 2012 regulations:

  • Industry’s shift toward large-scale, consolidated
    facilities
  • Concerns with intensity of oil and gas development
  • Additional information
    about impacts
  • Rulemaking at the State level (Governor’s Task Force, etc.)
  • Concerns with impacts on community and environment

What will the
new regulations do?

Under the approved
regulations, the County will require Special
Use Review
for all new oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder
County.

The new
regulations are:

  • Comprehensive
    – They ask for detailed information and plans from operators in order to fully
    evaluate impacts and assess site-specific circumstances related to each oil and gas development
    application. They ask for alternative site locations.
  • Inclusive
    – The regulations require extensive notice to surrounding landowners, provide multiple opportunities for public
    input, including a neighborhood meeting and public hearings in front of the Planning
    Commission and Board of County Commissioners.
  • Protective
    – The regulations will closely scrutinize all
    proposed oil and gas development and hold operators to a high standard. The
    county will use 17 criteria to evaluate potential impacts on the surrounding
    area and the environment.
  • Specific – The
    regulations provide details on conditions of approval and mitigation measures that
    the county may impose to reduce the impacts on neighboring landowners and
    preserve the county land and environment.
  • Enforceableall
    approved oil and gas development will be subject close monitoring and operators
    will be required to comply with all requirements and mitigation measures.

Some of the more
defining components new regulations include options for:

  • Air
    quality monitoring
  • Hydrocarbon
    emissions control measures, including use
    of infra-red cameras to detect and repair leaks of equipment used on the well
    site
  • Water
    well sampling and testing
  • Conditions
    of approval that will reduce impacts to the site/area/resources, including
    change in location, use of pipelines to reduce truck traffic, reduction of the
    number of wells, adjustment of pad dimensions, use of shared infrastructure,
    visual buffering/landscaping, etc.
  • Disruption
    payments to surrounding occupants of residential structures who are affected by
    drilling activities – an operator would be required to pay the cost to
    rent a replacement home for the number of months construction and
    drilling take place, plus the cost to move away and back
  • Emergency
    preparedness and response plan
  • Reporting,
    monitoring, and inspections