BOULDER, Colo. — Increasing numbers of Coloradans are seeking clarification on the role local governments can play in regulating the oil-and-gas industry as boom-time drillers encroach on neighborhoods, community spaces and city schools. The list now officially includes a 53-member group of council members, commissioners and mayors representing cities and counties across the state, from the western slopes to the Front Range prairie and from liberal Boulder to conservative Colorado Springs.
The officials have sent a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper and state lawmakers urging them to set out clearly the rights of local governments to “use zoning and land use powers to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their constituents from the impacts of oil and gas development,” according to a release.
“Local governments have long held the power to balance industrial activities with residents’ quality of life and property values,” reads the letter. ” It is crucial for local governments to have the authority to regulate the pace and scale of oil and gas drilling within their communities. This is the only way that local governments can ensure the health and safety of their children and families, the livability and property values of their neighborhoods and the long-‐term economic vitality of their communities.”
Five communities on the northern Front Range have in the last two years voted to ban or temporarily halt the extraction process known as fracking. Residents and officials in many more communities are considering enacting similar bans.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association lobby group has sued some of the communities in response. The state has joined industry’s side in some of the suits. Governor John Hickenlooper opposes the local rules, arguing it’s the state’s responsibility to set up uniform rules that are easy for drillers to navigate.
The local officials who signed Tuesday’s letter are eager for answers on what role, if any, they have in regulation.
“The letter is not about pro-fracking or anti-fracking,” Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry told the Colorado Independent. “It’s about frustrations. I mean, who would better know what’s right for a community than the locals? Take eastern Adams County. We don’t have a lot of water there. Fracking takes a ton of water, so I would like to see a closed water system used there for fracking — where the drillers use the same water over and over. This letter is about little regulations like that.
“We’re like this in the West, you know,” she added. “That’s how we do it. We like local control.”
Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones said the letter has already drawn kudos from some members of the legislature. She said that increasing local control makes sense to people from across the spectrum once you start talking about it.
“With zoning powers you have the right to locate every other kind of land use except oil and gas,” she said, referring to manufacturing, retail, farming, hunting and so on. “It doesn’t make sense that oil and gas are treated differently, but right now that’s state statute. It has to change and the rights of local governments need to be assured.”
The officials who signed the letter are agnostic on how clarity can be achieved, whether through the “local control” ballot initiative introduced by citizens Friday, for example, or through the state legislature.
“A community’s right to self-determination is not a partisan issue — it’s of great importance to all Coloradans, Democrats and Republicans alike,” said Gwen Lachelt, a commissioner in La Plata County, which has been pocked by thousands of drilling sites for more than a decade.
Jones said the letter was drafted more than a month ago. Its release Tuesday was not meant to be tied to either the local-control ballot initiative or to celebration of the state’s new air-quality rules, which were formalized Sunday and aim mainly at reining in oil and gas leaks. The new rules are being touted as the strongest of their kind in the nation.