December 4, 2017
Statement on Oil & Gas Development on Open Space
Boulder County is committed to protecting our open space from oil and gas development to the greatest extent possible. Oil and gas development is not a permitted use of open space lands under the sales tax resolutions that have provided the funds for acquisition of most open space lands nor is it consistent with the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan. Boulder County has never, and will not, voluntarily agree to lease or sell any mineral rights to oil and gas developers. However, while the county is committed to protecting our open space from oil and gas development, in many instances, the right to extract minerals under Open Space properties were leased to third parties, or the mineral rights were otherwise severed from the land, before the county purchased the land as open space.
Under state law, whoever holds the right to drill for oil and gas (the mineral owner or lease holder) has the right to extract the minerals where they lie and use a portion of the surface above those minerals so long as they make “reasonable accommodation” for the surface owner’s activities. Therefore, the county can’t prohibit the owner of a lease for minerals under Open Space land from using the surface of that land to drill, but can require protections for agricultural, ecological, and recreational uses of those properties, which may include adjusting well site locations within the parcel. Moreover, the county can (1) fight for alternative well locations on different properties during the operator’s state agency permitting process, and (2) has review authority, including the power to deny inappropriate locations and impose conditions and mitigation measures for well pads, during the county’s Special Review process under the Boulder County Land Use Code.
County staff is continually analyzing all available legal arguments and practical actions to protect all of the resources in the county, including Open Space lands, and is prepared to make all such arguments and take all such actions whenever appropriate.