With more than 200 comments submitted in support of Boulder County extending its moratorium on oil and gas developments and seismic testing, county commissioners unanimously acquiesced on Monday, setting a new expiration date of July 31.
The additional four months, the commissioners said, will provide the county’s staff as well as the public adequate time to review proposed amendments to Article 12 of the Boulder County Land Use Code.
“The impacts have such potential to affect Boulder County residents, public health, the environment, our open space and air quality, so we need to get this right,” commented Commissioner Elise Jones. “We are not going to be able to do this justice or allow for adequate public review for these updated regulations under the current schedule, so I think this is a great case for extending the moratorium to July 31.”
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, however, felt that the extension is a thinly veiled ban on fracking, the legality of which is still in question.
“Now with its tenth moratoria, Boulder County has effectively banned energy development for seven of the past eight years, which directly violates the law, court rulings, and even the passage and spirit of Senate Bill 181 (the key sponsors of which, including Speaker KC Becker, said was not to allow for fracking bans),” Dan Haley, the president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, wrote in a letter to the commissioners.
To provide its staff with time to update its oil and gas regulations from 1994, Boulder County first enacted a moratorium on oil and gas operations and seismic testing on Feb. 2, 2012, resulting in new regulations being adopted in December 2012. The original moratorium was then extended on several occasions to allow for new studies on the impacts of fracking on water and air quality to be incorporated into another update of the regulations, which were approved in March 2017, following the moratorium’s final expiration in May 2017.
However, when Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 181 into law on April 16, 2019, and granted local governments new authority to regulate the surface impacts of oil and gas operations, the legal framework under which the previous updates approved were no longer valid.
As a result, on June 28 the Boulder County Commissioners voted to enact yet another moratorium on oil and gas development so its staff could study the impacts of Senate Bill 181. On July 16 the commission once again unanimously voted to extend the moratorium, this time until March 28 of this year.
While staff said it fully anticipated being able to complete a draft of new regulations and have the commission review any proposals before March 28, the complex and technical nature of the regulations required more time than expected and meeting that deadline would have required limiting the time the public had to review any amendments between public meetings.
“The update involves both strengthening existing areas of the regulations as well as tackling new areas that were opened up by Senate Bill 181, such as noise, vibration, odor, and seismic testing. We’re also looking at leaks and emissions that are occurring at existing facilities in an effort to further protect Boulder County residents,” said Kim Sanchez, the deputy director of planning and zoning for Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting. “The project is massive … Although we’ve made great efforts to meet that schedule required by the March 28 end date, the schedule revealed a number of issues.”
Along with providing more time for public review and comment, the additional time will also allow county staff to fully participate in the rule-making hearings with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this May.
With the moratorium now extended to July 31, the new schedule is as follows:
The county will release a draft of proposed amendments on Friday or early next week.
The Boulder County Planning Commission will host a public hearing at 4 p.m. April 6 to receive public testimony on the proposed oil and gas regulations. This meeting will only be for public testimony. Because of heightened public interest in participation, an online advance sign-up system will be used to sign-up. Members of the public can also email testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org
After reviewing the public comments, the Planning Commission will meet again at 1 p.m. April 8 to discuss the regulations and make a recommendation for the Board of County Commissioners to either approve, modify or reject the proposed regulations. No public comment will be taken at that meeting.
If a decision cannot be reached in one meeting, Boulder County staff scheduled another Planning Commission meeting for 4 p.m. April 27, if necessary.
Once the Planning Commission makes a recommendation, the Board of County Commissioners will then host a public hearing at 4 p.m. June 18 to receive public comment. Again, because of heightened public interest, there will be an online sign-up list for those who wish to speak. As always, members of the public can also email testimony to email@example.com.
The commission will begin its final deliberations at 4 p.m. June 25. Due to the complex nature and far-reaching effects of any oil and gas regulations, July 7, 9 and 14 also have been scheduled for discussion if needed.