After Weld County leaders opposed a sweeping measure to reform regulation of the oil and gas industry in Colorado as it moved through the statehouse this year, they announced Wednesday they are starting a process to take advantage of the recently passed law’s provisions giving local governments more control over drilling siting.
Boulder County officials will be watching the rules their neighbors come up with, as the regulations are likely to contrast greatly from one side of the county line to the other.
“Given that what happens across the county line in Weld County can and does directly impact the residents of Boulder County, we will be closely following how Weld County implements (the new law), and they’ll assuredly be doing the same of us,” Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones said in a statement.
While the state law, called SB 181 or Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations, allows cities and counties to control proposed placements of extraction equipment through granting the ability to enforce local zoning and land use codes as they pertain to drilling — an authority held almost exclusively by the state under previous law — it does not allow local governments to create less stringent regulations than the state’s.
State officials have also been tasked with updating industry regulations and enforcement methods by the law, such as air quality monitoring at oil and gas sites.
Boulder County-area fracking opponents who criticized the law for not going far enough to restrict drilling worried that greater local government control over well placement would result in cross-jurisdictional conflicts that could lead to drilling rigs lining city and county lines inside industry-friendly borders such as Weld where they could still reach underground into fracking-averse communities to drain minerals.
But state and Boulder County officials have argued the new law’s boosted air quality monitoring requirements and updates to forced pooling rules to make it harder for drilling operators to get a green light from the state to develop minerals of property owners who don’t consent to partaking in proposed extraction will help mitigate such regulatory contrasts between neighboring governments.
Already, there appears to be dozens of active oil and gas wells just east of the Boulder County line in Weld that are draining land up to the border, but none that reach across from the Weld side into Boulder territory. That could change, though, should the operator 8 North’s projects, which would bring 52 wells just east of the county line to drain almost exclusively Boulder County lands, prevail in lawsuits Boulder County has filed in hopes of stopping the drilling.
“SB 181 was designed to protect public health, safety and welfare and the environment by establishing minimum standards that will apply to everyone across the state, as well as allowing local governments to regulate oil and gas operations in a reasonable manner,” Boulder County Chief Planner Kim Sanchez said. “These changes should be beneficial to people in Boulder County and Weld County, and we intend to do everyone on our side to protect the public’s welfare.”
Weld County Commissioners on Wednesday set in motion a process to formally designate unincorporated Weld an “oil and gas local control county,” a news release said.
They directed county staff to set a June 10 hearing to consider the designation, at which public comment will be welcome, the release said.
“All through the legislative process, the public was told Senate Bill 181 would give control to local governments,” Weld County Commissioner Pro-Tem Mike Freeman stated in the release.
Weld officials have lamented in news reports the new state law prevents local governments from using more lax siting rules than the state.
“The resolution passed today is the first step to ensure our future and a robust economy,” Freeman stated. We are taking control back from the state, as they have outlined in SB 181, and are defining clearly for the public and the industry that Weld intends on utilizing the tools, laws and policies afforded to us to maintain the working relationship we have had with the energy industry to the benefit of our oil and gas families and local small businesses.”
Boulder County plans to use the expanded local government control differently.
“Boulder County will continue to enforce its regulations, which have been made stronger by SB 181, and will be an active participant in upcoming rule-makings at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Air Quality Control Commission,” Boulder County Commissioners wrote in a joint statement last month. “The county will use the new local government authority provided by SB 181 to protect Boulder County residents, visitors and ecosystems to the full extent provided by law.”