Reacting to a recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling, Boulder County commissioners on Thursday imposed a new six-month moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) after lifting a four-year prohibition that had been in place for unincorporated portions of the county. The ban will last through Nov. 18.
On May 2, Colorado's high court struck down a ban and moratorium on fracking by the cities of Longmont and Fort Collins, respectively, siding with the oil/natural gas industry and affirming that the local government actions were preempted by state law making them invalid and unenforceable (see Shale Daily, May 3).
Boulder County elected officials lifted their "timeout" on accepting and processing new oil/gas development applications, which was to be effective through July 1, 2018, replacing it with the six-month ban, which they said was needed to take public comments and adopt updates to the county's land-use and environmental regulations covering oil/gas operations.
Officials said their actions were prompted by the state Supreme Court ruling against local bans. The county's ban goes back to 2012 and has been extended several times (see Shale Daily, June 21, 2013).
Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Dan Haley was somewhat skeptical about the county action, noting “only Boulder County ends a moratorium by creating a brand new one; [it] has had years to consider new rules and regulations, but has failed to do so.
“We will watch carefully to see if the county is sincere in enacting oil/gas regulations within the context of the recent Supreme Court ruling, or if this is just a ploy to extend their previous moratorium and it's business as usual.” Haley, said he encourages the county to work with the state and industry as it drafts new and updated land-use regulations and holds public hearings before their final adoption.
Before the county board took its action, its legal counsel indicated that the short-term ban might be permissible under state law, but that if challenged in court it would likely be struck down in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, local news reports indicated.
Nevertheless, the assistant county counsel told commissioners that while the Colorado Supreme Court concluded Fort Collins' moratorium was too long, "we do think there's some ability" for Boulder County to adopt a new moratorium -- but only for the period needed to draft, hold public hearings and enact updated land-use code regulations about oil and gas operations, the Boulder Daily Camera reported.
In a statement posted on the county website, Commissioners Elise Jones, Deb Gardner and Cindy Domenico said they "continue to believe that local governments should have sufficient regulatory authority to address local impacts of oil and gas development." They added that "we continue to be disappointed by judicial, legislative, and regulatory decisions that do not adequately protect our residents from industrial activities like fracking."
County officials contend that local regulations relating to well drilling, pipelines, storage and other oil/gas facilities and operations, last updated in 2013, are outdated and insufficient given expanded industry practices.
One of the concerns raised was the oil/gas industry's move to multiple wells on a single pad, which have picked up momentum since the county first imposed its moratorium. Four years ago, there were one to four wells/pad; now there are 12 to 20 wells/pad, the commissioners said.
Thursday's action directed the county staff to analyze existing county regulations to see whether amendments are needed "to adequately mitigate the associated impacts and hazards to best protect the public, health, safety, welfare and environment." Staff and land-use officials called the six-month time frame "tight," but they vowed to get the updates done.