Friday, July 26, 2019

Shale Law in the Spotlight – Overview of Recent Local Oil and Gas Moratoria in Colorado Following the Passage of Senate Bill 19-181


Written by Chloe Marie – Research Specialist

On April 16, 2019, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill No. 19-181 into law, increasing the focus on environmental and public health concerns in the oil and gas governance process in Colorado. Among other things, the legislation mandates that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission develop and promulgate a number of rules to ensure that development takes place in a manner that is consistent with the Commission’s primary interest to protect people, wildlife, and the environment from the impacts of oil and gas activities. In addition, the legislation increases the authority of local governments to control oil and gas development projects, generally independent from the Commission regardless of whether these projects may have statewide impacts.

The passage of SB 19-181 triggered a wave of action by local governments throughout the state of Colorado to prohibit oil and gas operations. This article will provide an overview of such moratoria that were adopted in Boulder and Adams Counties; the cities of Lafayette and Broomfield; and the towns of Superior, Erie, Berthoud, and Timnath.

Boulder County Oil and Gas Moratorium on New Oil and Gas Development Applications

On July 16, 2019, the Board of County Commissioners approved a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas development applications and seismic testing operations in Boulder County. This action followed an emergency temporary moratorium that had been enacted on June 28, 2019. The stated reason behind the implementation of the temporary moratorium is that it will allow additional time for the county staff to research and prepare an amendment to Article 12 of the Land Use Code, Special Review for Oil and Gas Operations. The desire to amend the land use requirements was precipitated by the enactment of Senate Bill No. 19-181 which increased the authority of local governments over the siting and surface impacts of oil and gas development projects.

In the moratorium, the county commissioners declared that it was “inconsistent with the Board’s responsibilities to protect the local environment and population of the County to accept, process and review applications for new oil and gas development in a piecemeal fashion while it is developing amendments to applicable portions of the Code based on recent changes in state law.”

The moratorium prevents the Boulder County Land Use Director from accepting or processing any new oil and gas development applications or holding any conferences under Article 12 of the Land Use Code. It does specify, however, that the Director “may process and approve requests for maintenance and repair of existing oil and gas operation under Article 12-900.E.” In addition, the moratorium prohibits seismic testing operations for oil and gas in Boulder County. The temporary moratorium is to remain in effect until at least March 28, 2020.

Town of Superior Oil and Gas Moratorium on Oil and Gas Development Projects

On July 8, 2019, the Board of Trustees of the Town of Superior adopted an emergency ordinance extending a prior moratorium on the acceptance, processing, and approval of land use applications for oil and gas development. The extended moratorium will now run through April 13, 2020.

The extension of the moratorium gives the Board of Trustees more time to prepare appropriate and comprehensive changes to the current regulations concerning oil and gas activities in light of SB 19-181. According to the Board, “This Ordinance is deemed necessary for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare.”

Town of Erie Oil and Gas Moratorium on New Oil and Gas Applications

On June 25, 2019, the Erie Board of Trustees passed Ordinance No. 19-301 to approve the extension of the moratorium on the acceptance, processing, and approval of any applications for oil and gas development projects in the Town of Erie. The moratorium previously had been set to expire on August 13, 2019, but it will now be in place until January 28, 2020. The Ordinance states that “the Town needs time to analyze its regulatory authority under SB 19-181, draft amendments to its oil and gas or other land use regulations, receive and process public input, and revise, finalize, and enact appropriate regulations.”

City of Broomfield Oil and Gas Moratorium

On May 28, 2019, the Broomfield City Council adopted a 6-month moratorium on processing or approving applications for the operation of oil and gas wells or facilities within the City and County of Broomfield. According to the City Council, “In order to develop new regulations to implement SB19-181 in a thoughtful manner that provides more clarity and certainty to oil and gas operators about Broomfield’s requirements without trying to simultaneously review and process applications to develop oil and gas wells, facilities and projects, a temporary moratorium on processing such applications is necessary.”

This temporary moratorium is set to be effective until November 14, 2019, and will not apply to existing or previously approved oil and gas operations.

Town of Berthoud Temporary Administrative Suspension on New Oil and Gas Permit Applications

On May 14, 2019, the Town of Berthoud Board of Trustees mandated staff to develop draft oil and gas regulations, and also issued a 180-day administrative suspension of the consideration of new oil and gas permit applications. The temporary administrative suspension will expire in November 2019 or once the Town Board of Trustees adopts new oil and gas regulations.

City of Lafayette Moratorium on Oil and Gas Operations

On May 7, 2019, the Lafayette City Council announced a 6-month extension of the moratorium on the submission, acceptance, processing, and approval of any land use applications for oil and gas operations within city boundaries. An initial moratorium was approved in November 2017 and has been repeatedly extended over the years. In enacting the most recent extension, the City Council explained that it “believes that maintaining the existing moratorium is necessary until such time as Council has had an opportunity to carefully consider, and potentially enact, new regulations that are intended to protect the City and its citizens from the negative impacts of oil and gas exploration and extraction.”

The extended moratorium will run at least through November 2019 as the Ordinance states that this 6-month period will be the minimum amount of time needed to complete an appropriate review.

Town of Timnath Administrative Suspension and Consideration of Interim Oil and Gas Regulations

On April 4, 2019, the Town Council of the Town of Timnath adopted an Ordinance implementing a 90-day administrative suspension of consideration of oil and gas permit applications. The Council had previously directed its staff to prepare draft oil and gas regulations, and with the enactment of SB 19-181, the Council believes that time is necessary to study the new legislation and any related regulations.

The Town Council did not extend this temporary administrative suspension but instead, on July 9, 2019,  considered interim oil and gas regulations that would apply until such time as new regulations are adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Adams County Moratorium on New Oil and Gas Permit Applications

Anticipating the passage of Senate Bill 19-181 and an accompanying rush in applications prior to the implementation of the bill, on March 20, 2019, the Board of County Commissioners for Adams County adopted a temporary moratorium for new applications for oil and gas development. The Board has  “estimate[d] that it will take approximately six months for County staff to evaluate the implementation of Senate Bill 19-181 and develop oil and gas regulations that meet the needs of the Adams County community under the applicable law.”

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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