Colorado’s energy industry has come out swinging against Boulder County’s attempt to impose more stringent oversight of oil and gas well operations.

Colorado production

Operators working in unincorporated areas of Boulder County would be required to ensure well pad setbacks are at least 2,000 feet and generally 2,500 feet near homes, schools and licensed child care centers. The setbacks also would be required in light industrial, commercial, business and transitional zones.

The three-member Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the fourth draft last week to revise Article 12 of the Land Use Code. The revisions are “are the strongest rules in the state and will be a model for others,” said Commissioner Matt Jones. 

A review of the three-year-old land use regulations had begun in March, but Covid-19 stalled hearings. Also, the revisions are tied to state oversight, and the county commissioners wanted to wait for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to complete extensive rulemakings required by Senate Bill 19-181

Among other things, the COGCC last month granted additional authority to local governments to regulate the impacts of oil and gas development.

The updated regulations would “provide for close scrutiny of all proposed oil and gas development and multiple opportunities for public input prior to any decision being made,” the county commission noted. “For any new oil and gas development applications, these regulations will allow staff, the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee, the Planning Commission, and the Board of County Commissioners to consider site-specific circumstances and possible measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate adverse impacts in determining whether to approve or deny a proposal.”

The proposed rules also “will help to ensure careful monitoring and enforcement over oil and gas operations,” including existing facilities. 

While the regulations are under review, the county is continuing a moratorium on new oil and gas development and seismic testing to the end of the year “so that any new applications to drill can be reviewed under the most protective, updated regulations that are ultimately adopted.”

Colorado energy industry groups blasted the county revisions as unnecessary.

Colorado Oil & Gas Association CEO Dan Haley told NGI’s Shale Daily that the state’s “communities can’t ban oil and natural gas development — either through outright bans or through regulations that make it impossible to access a mineral owner’s private property and investment. 

“This latest setback is based more on politics than science,” Haley said. “The data shows a 500-foot setback is protective of public health. The measurements and toxicological analysis that we saw during the Mission Change rulemaking made that clear.”

Executive Director Lynn Granger of the American Petroleum Institute Colorado also criticized the changes. The industry group has “repeatedly emphasized” to Boulder County officials that regulatory decisions “must not be arbitrary or capricious in nature.”