The Boulder County, CO, planning commission on Tuesday proposed to offer exploration and production (E&P) operators an option of expedited oil and natural gas drilling permits in return for meeting stricter environmental standards. An industry association spokesman told NGI‘s Shale Daily they favored existing state mechanisms over the county proposal.

The draft regulations are scheduled to be considered by the elected Boulder County Board of Commissioners Nov. 13. The proposal would create two procedures for new drilling operations in unincorporated parts of the county — the standard process, as well as an expedited one that would require operators to comply with proposed stricter air/water quality rules.

Additional public health and safety requirements — including a minimum 1,000-foot setback from occupied structures — would assure the E&P operators that they would get accelerated consideration of their drilling permits, according to reports on the commission’s action. In adopting the draft rules, the planning commission voted 6-1 to send the recommendation on to the county commission. The lone dissenting vote wanted an even tougher setback provision, making 1,500 feet the minimum distance to occupied structures.

The regulations are drafted to include an expedited process should an operator consent to conditions otherwise preempted by the state-wide Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said a spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA).

“We encourage jurisdictions to stay aligned with state rules and work to achieve their objectives through the state local government designee (LGD) process. There are frequently site-specific considerations, brought forth by both an operator and the community,” said COGA spokesman Doug Flanders. “The LGD process has specifically been created for the sort of dialogue and collaboration required in real-world situations. As we learned during the Governor’s Task Force, jurisdictions across the state with decades of oil and gas experience use the state’s LGD process, and have concluded that it is an efficient and positive way to achieve their goals.”

Acknowledging that the proposed Boulder County rules “aren’t perfect,” Planning Commissioner Scott Holwick told reporters that the commission did not have all the information it needed in crafting the proposed new regulations. Holwick said he was unsure what the industry’s reaction would be to this proposal, and whether operators would try the option.

Boulder and cities within the county have been among a number of local Colorado jurisdictions attempting to place tighter restrictions on oil and gas development in their local jurisdictions (see Shale Daily, Sept. 7). Boulder is one of the jurisdictions imposing a moratorium on E&P activity while it works on local rules, and it indicated last month the ban would have to stay in place longer than originally expected (see Shale Daily, Oct. 22a).

In the past, Boulder County officials have reiterated their concerns about the potential for significantly expanded oil and gas drilling within the county, and have supported appropriate, tighter restrictions on drilling and increased local control to mitigate the impacts of these activities.

However, Boulder officials readily acknowledge that they and other local government officials in Colorado do not have complete authority to regulate drilling (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24). “In order to ensure both our comprehensive plan and land use regulations are as thorough and up-to-date as possible, [in February this year] we approved a temporary moratorium on the processing of the required development plans for local oil and gas permits under the county land use code,” the county commissioners stated on their website.

Earlier in October the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission voted to partially adopt federal clean air rules that target hydraulic fracturing emissions and to hold public meetings next year to consider full implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules (see Shale Daily, Oct. 22b). In April EPA released its final rule to eliminate air pollution from oil and natural gas production and granted the industry a “reasonable” time to meet its requirements, extending the deadline for full compliance from 60 days to 2015 (see Shale Daily, April 19).