Saying they do not have the authority to decide the County’s destiny on oil and gas drilling – the Boulder County Commissioners today said they will not extend a five-year moratorium past a May 1st deadline…and they will not impose an outright ban.
This post was updated on April 26th at 8am.
Citing the Supreme Court’s rulings against voter-approved fracking bans in Longmont and Fort Collins the Commissioners said they would not go head-to-head with the courts despite pleas from county residents to do just that.
Instead they will work with staff to refine and impose the toughest restrictions on fracking in the state. The commissioners said they are not giving up the fight but encouraged those attending the hearing to take the issue to the state legislature – where tougher laws against fracking can be adopted.
The decision comes after Crestone Peak Resources submitted the first application in five years to drill for gas and oil on 12 square miles in east Boulder County with a proposal for 216 wells.
For five years the Boulder County Commissioners have kept fracking at bay by imposing rolling moratoriums to prevent oil and gas companies from drilling on county lands. But on Tuesday the commissioners said a court battle would likely be expensive and fruitless and announced they would not continue the moratorium or pursue a ban. As KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, the County will instead push for laws that would grant more local control while imposing the state’s most stringent regulations possible on oil and gas companies that submit local drilling applications.
All three of the Boulder County Commissioners said they would like to keep a moratorium in place or better yet – impose a ban to prevent fracking. But they’ve watched as nearby cities like Longmont and Fort Collins have tried to do that, only to get shot down by the Colorado Supreme Court after spending lots of money to defend their position. Commissioner Elise Jones says Boulder County is not in charge of its own destiny in regard to oil and gas drilling.
“Many of you have said, ‘why don’t you just extend the moratorium,’ and that would be the easy thing to do but it would also be disingenuous because it would not provide any real protection or keep wells out of Boulder County,” said Jones. “It would make us feel good for a couple of weeks before the Supreme Court struck it down. We don’t have the full authority to decide what’s best for our county, our residents, our environment or our economy. We have some authority and we have used it to write the strongest regulations possible.”
Crestone Peak Resources submitted an application last month to drill 216 wells on 12 acres in east Boulder County. When the moratorium expires on May 1, that application will have to be reviewed under the rules of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Commissioner Cindy Domenico said fracking needs to be resolved at the State Capitol.
“If we really want change we need to go down to the State Capitol and work with our legislators and help our general assembly revise legislation that reflects the values we hold in the state of Colorado,” said Domenico. “We do not have the authority to regulate industrial processes like oil and gas drilling and that needs to change.”
Commissioner Deb Gardner suggested the ballot box might be the only way Boulder County can change decisions about oil and gas drilling on its lands.
“I think we have the ability to do good work to push forward initiatives that will happen all across the country,” said Gardner. “But we haven’t been able to change the state legislature or the governorship to create a positive change at the state level. Many people have announced they are running for governor in 2018 and we need to make sure we have a governor who will sign new laws once they’re passed.”
At Tuesday’s meeting county staff explained many initiatives that will be undertaken to address oil and gas drilling including a plan to extensively monitor groundwater in 2017. But those efforts do not satisfy the citizens group, Boulder County Protectors. Organizer Kristen McLean passed out flyers after the hearing about two emergency meetings scheduled for next week
“The commissioners say that their hands are tied and we should stop protesting and take our efforts to the state but we feel we do have the authority under the Constitution to ban fracking,” said McLean. “That’s why we will have two meetings to discuss the Climate Bill of Rights, on Tuesday, May 2, at Boulder’s Unity Church, 6-8 p.m.; and Thursday, May 4 at Lafayette’s East Simpson Coffee Shop from 6-8 p.m.”