News Archive

April 25, 2017

Boulder County Commissioners pledge to continue to protect public health, safety, and the environment from local oil & gas development

At a public meeting on April 25, 2017, the Board of County Commissioners and staff rolled out plans to address the impacts of oil & gas development using a multi-pronged approach

(Boulder County, Colo.) -- At a well-attended public meeting on Tuesday, April 25, the Board of County Commissioners and staff laid the groundwork for future plans to address the impacts of local oil & gas development on the public’s health, safety, and the environment.

During the 90-minute meeting, staff from various program areas and departments presented a status report on the current legal and legislative environment related to oil and development in Boulder County and the State of Colorado. They also presented an update on current public health efforts being taken by Boulder County to address hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and sustainability measures to reduce fossil fuel use by homeowners and businesses.

While some members of the public continue to call for an outright ban on fracking in Boulder County, the county commissioners laid out the case for why a ban is not a viable option for the county, especially since the Colorado Supreme Court stated that local bans and lengthy moratorium are not permitted under state law.

“Existing state law, solidified by decisions in 2016 by the Colorado Supreme Court, prohibits a ban or moratorium on permitting new oil and gas operations,” said County Commissioner Deb Gardner. “In fact, Boulder County is currently being sued by the state’s Attorney General’s Office for its temporary ban on new oil and gas applications that expires after May 1. That is why we are taking steps to use every tool available to us, short of an outright ban, to help us address the detrimental impacts to our air, water, and quality of life from oil and gas development in Boulder County.”

For more than five years, the county commissioners have been seeking more local regulatory authority over oil and gas development, but those efforts have been continually thwarted at the state level.

“We’ve heard from many people who have said, ‘Why don’t you just extend Boulder County’s moratorium on new drilling?” remarked County Commissioner Elise Jones. “I’ll be honest and say that it would be the easy thing to do, but it’s also disingenuous because extending the moratorium won’t provide any real protections, nor would it keep new oil and gas wells out of Boulder County. The problem Boulder County is facing is that we don’t have the full authority to decide our destiny on the oil and gas issue – to decide what’s best for our county, for our environment, for our public’s health, or for our local economy. We have some authority, which we have used to write the strongest possible regulations we could, but it’s not all the authority we want or need to ensure the full protection of our residents and our world class environment.”

In order to maximize the use of its limited local authority in other areas, Boulder County is committed to undertaking a series of legislative, legal, environmental, and public health “fixes” to help minimize the impacts of fracking on people and the environment.

These approaches include programs to monitor and assess local impacts from oil and gas development, increased opportunities for homes and businesses to reduce their fossil fuel consumption, possible amendments to state law, the initiation of state rulemakings, and the consideration of additional legal strategies.

These efforts are in addition to the regulations adopted by the Boulder County Commissioners last month that are considered to be the strongest set of local land use regulations on oil and gas development in the State of Colorado.

The County Commissioners closed the meeting with their remarks and comments on the multi-pronged approach presented by county staff. Each commissioner, in turn, emphasized the need for county residents to put pressure on the state legislature and the governor’s office to enact changes to state laws and regulations that currently favor the industry above public concerns and impede local control.

“The county’s real obstacle with state preemption challenges to local control is state statute, so we are encouraging our constituents to work with us to change state law,” said Commissioner Cindy Domenico. “While our current political climate doesn’t support this, sustained public advocacy directed at Colorado state rulemakers can, and hopefully will, change our political landscape to make it more favorable to local control and clean energy policy change. We must continue to pursue and advocate for better legislation on oil and gas, knowing that this is a multi-year strategy.”

Commissioner Jones summed up the meeting this way: “Rather than taking symbolic and potentially detrimental action, I think we need to be focused on doing something meaningful. Not because we aren’t listening or don’t care or don’t understand or aren’t interested. I want to be clear - when May 1st comes, and our moratorium lapses, it doesn’t mean game over. It doesn’t mean that we’re giving up on local control, or that we’re saying yes to a tidal wave of new drilling. It doesn’t mean this fight is over by any stretch of the imagination. We are all in this together, sharing the common goal of working towards what’s best for Boulder County. As your Board of County Commissioners, we pledge to continue working to do all we can to protect this county and its residents from the impacts of oil and gas development and to forge a cleaner energy future for us all. We urge everyone to stay engaged with us on this issue and continue sending us your good ideas on what else we should be doing. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Additional ideas and comments from county residents and other members of the public are strongly encouraged by the Boulder County Commissioners. Written
comments may be emailed to oilgascomment@bouldercounty.org at any time, and will be reviewed by the commissioners.

The county commissioners’ multi-pronged approach includes:

Assuring a Strong Public Health Role

Boulder County Public Health will continue its voluntary oil and gas inspection program and work to ensure that leaks and other issues identified in the field are properly addressed. Public Health staff will also continue playing an active role in the Air Quality Control Commission’s stakeholder process and rulemaking striving for greater emission controls at oil and gas facilities, and working closely with researchers on two Boulder County-funded studies that will provide a baseline assessment of air and water quality in Boulder County.

Seeking Legislative and Rulemaking Improvements to State Law

The Boulder County State Legislative Agenda includes six policy priorities that address oil and gas development. The policies are both broad – e.g., speaking to limiting impacts of oil and gas development on air and water quality, and also specific – e.g., speaking to the intersection between state and local authority over the industry, and advocating for increased local authority to exceed state regulation in response to local concerns and conditions. The county’s oil and gas policies enable direct and active engagement with our state legislative delegation and other stakeholders to advance county priorities and achieve county goals through changes in state law or rulemakings, to both address the direct impacts of oil and gas development on our residents and environment and also as part of a broader strategy to change Colorado’s policy approach to climate change. The county has also been active in Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) rulemakings and will continue to participate and initiate rulemakings where the county believes they are needed.

Promoting More Sustainable Practices for Homes and Businesses

Given that 62% of countywide greenhouse gas emissions come from the residential and commercial sectors, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from homes and businesses and cleaning up the generation of power from these sources is goal number one. Boulder County has invested in offering multiple sustainability services that help residents and business owners with energy efficiency and the implementation of renewable energy – and will be launching a new pilot program to help homes and businesses operate fossil fuel free. The bottom line is that we each play a part in this energy transformation and Boulder County has services that can really help people start on the pathway to reducing their reliance on fossil fuels. For more information, visit: www.BoulderCountySustainability.org.

Monitoring Legal Decisions and Strategizing Potential Future Approaches

The Boulder County Attorney’s Office, at the direction of the Board, has taken an aggressive stance when it comes to advocating for and protecting the interests of Boulder County citizens. The County will offer amicus support in ongoing oil and gas litigation that may affect Boulder County residents. In addition, the county is considering new legal options to hold industry accountable for the burdens and costs of adapting to climate change. Over the next months, the county will be developing a case and we will provide more information as we are ready to launch. Also, although ballot initiatives to amend the Colorado constitution are more difficult with the passage of Amendment 71 in 2016, a court challenge to Amendment 71 has been filed, and ballot initiatives related to oil and gas may be proposed in 2017 despite the effect of Amendment 71. The county will be watching closely and will consider taking positions - pro or against - on any statewide initiatives that are introduced for voter consideration.