March 01– Mar. 1—Boulder County’s local governments over the past several years have made numerous attempts to use land use and zoning regulations to set their own rules for approving new oil and gas extraction plans.
Those rules have nearly always faced legal challenges from the oil and gas industry, which pointed to state laws implying a city or county has little authority to determine the placement of drilling operations within their jurisdictions.
It is unclear whether those local governments’ past attempts to curb oil and gas activity could come into play — or if they would be replaced by new rules — if that authority is strengthened and clarified by a bill that could be introduced to the state Legislature as soon as Friday.
Could Longmont’s voter-approved ban on fracking that was struck down in 2016 by the Colorado Supreme Court legally return? Would Broomfield stick with oil and gas regulations voters approved in 2017 that residents have accused the city of neglecting to enforce? Could Longmont better position itself with updated land use codes for oil and gas than it already has with last year’s $3 million deal with drilling operators to end surface activity within city limits?
The bill proposes sweeping changes to Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory process, including, most notably, giving local governments.
expanded land use power over drilling.
“In the past, localities have tried to play the best hand based on the cards they were dealt,” state Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said. “Some were trying to push it and do what they could under current case law and (state) law. If this bill were passed, they would have another set of cards to play. They may not cut and paste regulations (from the past), because they have a new starting point.”
Boulder County would act fast in taking advantage of the bill’s provisions if it is signed into law.
“If the legislation changes local authority, the county will promptly review its existing regulations and make any changes made possible by the new law,” Boulder County spokeswoman Gabi Boerkircher said.
Boulder’s city government likely would do the same, according to the city’s policy advisor Carl Castillo. He added that Boulder’s extension last year of its moratorium on new drilling in the city through May 2020 was well-timed, if this bill becomes law, to allow city staff to account for the changes to state rules that were expected while drafting new municipal rules for oil and gas.
“There has been so much uncertainty through cases being appealed and laws being conflated, it sounds like this bill if it passes … it would provide the clarity we needed to make some recommendations,” Castillo said. “… You can bet our city council would be interested in adopting those (most) protective authorities as possible to protect our community.”
But Longmont’s agreement struck last year with Cub Creek Energy and TOP Operating that ceased new surface drilling in the city complicates what it might consider if offered greater sway over oil and gas in the city, Councilwoman Marcia Martin said.
“The city is pretty satisfied with the position it’s in right now. I don’t see us needing to take any action right now,” Martin said, adding she could change her mind once she reviews the language in the planned bill.
Residents of Boulder and Broomfield counties also are anxious to review the bill’s language, which is not yet public. But Lookout Alliance, a group formed to combat Extraction Oil and Gas plans to drill near and likely below public open space in the Gunbarrel area, supports its premise to expand local control as described Thursday by lawmakers.
“Colorado communities such as ours desperately need decision-making power to be able to protect ourselves from drilling and to prioritize health, safety and the environment,” Lookout Alliance member Lon Goldstein stated in an email. “We will be closely examining the proposed oil and gas legislation to see if the details of the bill will offer the protections that are being promised.”
The bill also would boost the amount of minerals in a given area a drilling operator must own before a forced pooling order — which drags non-consenting property owners’ minerals into an extraction project against their will — can be issued.
Advocacy group Colorado Rising does not expect the new bill, if passed, to have an impact on the merits of its lawsuit filed in Denver federal court on behalf of a Broomfield neighborhood, Wildgrass, challenging the constitutionality of the forced pooling provisions Extraction Oil and Gas is using to establish its right to drill beneath nearby homes.
“The increase in the threshold for leasees before a pooling order can be issued does not address the unconstitutionality of Colorado forced pooling laws, therefore we don’t anticipate it having an impact,” Colorado Rising spokesperson Anne Lee Foster said.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, email@example.com and twitter.com/samlounz.
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