County commissioners in Boulder on Friday imposed a temporary moratorium on accepting or processing oil and natural gas drilling applications until it has updated its land-use rules for energy extraction.

The unanimous decision by Boulder follows similar actions by other Colorado towns after the state earlier this year gave local governments broader authority under state Senate Bill (SB) 181 to regulate the energy industry.

The Boulder Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved Resolution 2919-59, which enacted the emergency temporary moratorium until March 27, 2020, on accepting and processing new oil and gas development applications and seismic testing in unincorporated parts of the county.

The BOCC said the moratorium would give staff time to “pursue changes to the county’s existing oil and gas regulations” because of the new state law and to address public health and safety issues related to energy development. County rules for oil and gas drilling were previously updated in 2017.

“It’s our duty and responsibility as county commissioners to do everything we can to fully safeguard the environment and people of Boulder County,” Chair Elise Jones said. “To that end, it’s critical that we impose an emergency moratorium…to ensure that our regulations are as strong as they can be under the new law,” and to ensure “any industry proposals” to drill or hydraulically fracture wells are reviewed under the updated protections.

“SB 181 gives us an opportunity to regulate oil and gas activity in Boulder County in the way that we feel protects the public’s health and safety and safeguards the welfare of the environment for the people who live here,” BOCC Vice Chair Deb Gardner added. “It also allows us to respond to the consistent and vocal concerns of residents who want us to put these essential protections in place.”

Commissioner Matt Jones said the county would have time “to create the strongest rules we can after the change in state law that prioritizes protection over profit.”

A public hearing scheduled for July 16, which also will be streamed on the internet, would offer an opportunity for comments and testimony. Staff plans to provide more information about the time needed to complete the requested research into public health and safety protections allowable under SB 181 and to develop the proposed regulations.

Beginning Tuesday (July 2), online sign-up forms from BOCC for individual speakers and pooled-time speakers are to be available. Members of the public will be able to speak at the hearing whether or not they have signed up online in advance of the hearing, BOCC noted. In addition, written comments may be submitted until July 15.

In response to BOCC’s decision, the Colorado Petroleum Council said moratoriums on new energy development “stand in direct opposition to the Colorado way of doing business, and we urge the Boulder County Commission not to take such wide-ranging action without fully acknowledging the consequences of doing so.”