Boulder County’s new oil and gas regulations, explained

The Boulder Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to approve new oil and gas regulations aimed at protecting unincorporated county residents from health and environmental effects of fracking.

The vote followed a contentious and well-attended meeting last week, during which the commissioners heard passionate testimony from dozens of residents.

The majority of those who testified spoke out against fracking, calling on the county not only to pass stricter regulations but to ban the practice entirely. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which represents fracking interests, wrote the commissioners to oppose the new rules, calling the rules “overly broad” and in conflict with existing state regulations.

The regulations will go into effect May 1, the same day the county’s most recent short-term fracking moratorium is set to expire. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last May that long-term or permanent fracking bans are preempted by state law and are thus illegal in Colorado.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, recently sued Boulder County over the temporary ban. Coffman has accepted tens of thousands in campaign contributions from oil-and-gas interests.

During deliberations, Boulder’s county commissioners rued their inability to do more to control oil and gas development at the local level.

“We and the State of Colorado do not agree on where the authority over local drilling operations should lie,” said Commissioner Elise Jones. “While we wish we could completely control or prevent all aspects of oil and gas development within Boulder County, we are doing everything we can under the current law to protect our local air, water, public health, and the environment with these new regulations.”

Perhaps most notably, the new regulations will require all new oil and gas permits in unincorporated Boulder County to undergo “Special Use Review,” a process used by the Boulder County Land Use Department to determine whether proposed development projects are compatible with surrounding areas.

Under the review process, regulators will consider the hours of a project’s operation, the level of traffic, light, noise and odor pollution it will generate, how adjoining property owners will be affected and whether operators have attempted to reduce the impact of the project.

According to a statement the commissioners released, the new regulations are also:

  • “Comprehensive – They ask for detailed information and plans from operators in order to fully evaluate impacts and assess site-specific circumstances related to each oil and gas development application. They ask for alternative site locations.
  • Inclusive – The regulations require extensive notice to surrounding landowners, provide multiple opportunities for public input, including a neighborhood meeting and public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners.
  • Protective  – The regulations will closely scrutinize all proposed oil and gas development and hold operators to a high standard. The county will use 17 criteria to evaluate potential impacts on the surrounding area and the environment.
  • Specific – The regulations provide details on conditions of approval and mitigation measures that the county may impose to reduce the impacts on neighboring landowners and preserve the county land and environment.
  • Enforceable – all approved oil and gas development will be subject close monitoring and operators will be required to comply with all requirements and mitigation measures.”

The commissioners say they will discuss additional options to control local oil and gas development during an April 25 meeting.

The full draft of the regulations is available here.


Photo by Ted Wood, The Story Group