Aug. 22–With scant discussion and not a single public speaker, Boulder City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to advance a ballot measure that, if passed, would levy a pollution tax on oil and gas drilling within the city. The vote was 8-0; council member Bob Yates recused himself.
The tax — up to $6.90 per barrel of oil 88 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas — would be paid by drillers, though none have expressed interest in drilling within city limits. The last well in Boulder was capped in the 1990s.
No representatives from the oil and gas industry spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has previously expressed its opposition to the measure, saying it fails to take into account the benefits of fossil fuels in society.
The tax is intended to pay for the negative impacts of oil and gas activity, which city staff has identified as damage to natural resources, drinking water contamination, public infrastructure and services, public safety concerns, broader economic impacts and health problems.
Estimated social costs of fracking “are much higher than we could ever reasonably collect (through) a tax,” staff wrote in a memo to the council. Staff estimated the true social costs represented 40 percent of the current sales price of oil and four times the current price of natural gas. The current proposed tax represents 12 percent of current sales prices for the respective fuels.
The tax would only apply to operations within city limits; drilling is much more likely to occur in city-owned open space located in Boulder County, but Boulder does not have the authority to tax activity outside its boundaries.
Councilman Sam Weaver said council also should consider fees, which could be placed on drilling on any city property. A report of land potentially vulnerable to drilling will be available in September.
Such a move could be done by the council, without going to voters. The pollution tax will be placed on the November ballot after a final, affirmative vote by council on Sept. 4. Lafayette on Tuesday also considered sending a pollution tax to voters.
Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones said that because the state is not doing enough to protect citizens from the impacts of drilling, it was incumbent upon the city to act. Weaver echoed the sentiment.
“This is in our backyard,” Weaver said. “Let’s do it here.”
Jones also remarked on the lack of public comment on oil and gas, a topic that draws crowds and passion in other Boulder County cities.
“Only in Boulder,” she said.
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