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Colorado County Extends Drilling Ban by 18 Months

Despite protests by state officials and the energy industry, the Boulder (CO) County commission on Tuesday extended a 16-month drilling moratorium now in place by another 18 months, following the lead of the Boulder city council, which earlier this month imposed a one-year drilling permit ban (see Shale Daily, June 7).

Boulder County already had imposed a 16-month moratorium on accepting drilling applications to develop unincorporated areas of the county.

"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," wrote Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) Director Matt Lepore and Assistant Attorney General Jake Matter in a letter. "Rolling moratoriums become injunctions disguised as moratoriums."

Following the council action, an OGCC spokesperson on Wednesday told NGI's Shale Daily that officials are reviewing the decision, discussing its ramifications and "exploring options."

Attorneys for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and Colorado operator Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. warned that the extension could be viewed as a "de facto ban on oil and gas development," and taking of private property rights, which they emphasized may violate Colorado law.

COGA's Doug Flanders said Wednesday that the Boulder county commissioners "submitted to pressure" from opponents of oil/gas development in the state. Noting until recently the same county officials had supported responsible oil/gas development, Flanders said the county leaders "have thrown aside their rules and essentially implemented a ban on oil/gas development."

Flanders said the action is an "unacceptable precedent" and the industry group is "evaluating all of our options."

Boulder County officials said the original 16-month moratorium accomplished what it was designed to do: give the county more time to study the potential impacts of fracking. The three-member commission, however, voted unanimously to extend it, citing a changing regulatory environment and the need for "more public health and safety studies to assess the health impacts of oil and gas development."

"We are living in a regulatory environment where regulations and rules are changing rapidly," said County Commissioner Deb Gardner. "A short delay in extraction is legal, necessary and appropriate when balanced against our fundamental duty as elected officials to protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment from potential adverse impacts of oil and gas exploration and development, and to minimize potential land use conflicts between those activities and current or planned land uses."

The commissioners said they had received "extensive feedback" on the moratorium during the past 16 months, including more than 1,100 comments that were submitted in the past few days, "all but about a dozen of which stated a preference for extending the moratorium."

"In general, public comments have overwhelmingly supported extending the moratorium to assess health and safety impacts of oil and gas drilling to area residents," said a commission spokesperson. The Boulder County Planning Commission recommended in a 7-0 vote earlier this month that the commission extend the moratorium.

Production in Boulder County has never been a major contributor to the state, and last year only accounted for 0.43% (176,050 bbl) of oil produced and 0.12% (2.25 Bcf) of natural gas, according to the OGCC. Earlier this year Fort Collins, CO, also banned hydraulic fracturing within city limits (see Shale Daily, March 7).

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