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Colorado County Extends 'Temporary' Drilling Ban to Mid-2018

For the third time in the last two years, Boulder County, CO’s three-member elected commission on Thursday extended a temporary drilling moratorium, this time until mid-2018, to provide more time to conduct various studies of health, safety and environmental impacts.

The ban does not affect active oil and natural gas wells in the county, which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) said numbered 317 as of Nov. 3.

The existing moratorium blocking any new permit applications to conduct oil/gas operations in the county was due to expire Jan. 1. Last year, the commissioners set aside protests from state and industry officials and passed an 18-month extension to the ban (see Shale Daily, June 21, 2013).

Each time, commissioners have cited a changing regulatory environment and the need for "more public health and safety studies to assess the health impacts of oil and gas development." On Thursday, the local elected officials said there was a need to finish studies on health and safety impacts of fracking on both the populous and the environment.

Since the original moratorium was passed more than two years ago, commissioners have tried to buy more time for the Boulder County planning department to put rules in place governing new drilling (see Shale Daily Feb. 7, 2013).

To date, the commissioners indicated that some of the studies they have discussed over the past two years have been started, while others are yet to be launched. None have been completed.

A Denver-based spokesperson for Encana Corp., one of the producers in Boulder County, said the commission's action was "disappointing," but the company has no plans to challenge the extension. Encana was expecting the action, he said.

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association's (COGA) Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs, said COGA is evaluating "all of its options now that the commissioners have unanimously decided to ignore recent judicial rulings that bans on fracking and energy development are illegal.

"By extending their ban to 2018, it would be in effect even longer than Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium that a district judge already has ruled to be illegal,” Flanders said (see Shale Daily, Nov. 10).

When the commissioners voted for an 18-month extension in June 2014, state officials warned that "there is no legal basis for extending the moratorium and no practical reason to do so other than prohibiting and preventing mineral owners from accessing their property," according to COGCC Director Matt Lepore and Assistant Attorney General Jake Matter in a letter to the county leaders.

"Rolling moratoriums become injunctions disguised as moratoriums," they said.

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