‘Incremental, necessary’ changes win in Adams County

Commissioners approve oil and gas rules

Posted 9/11/19

Oil and gas companies may have new regulations to navigate in Adams County but County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said they are incremental and necessary. “I’m not here to end oil and gas but I do …

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‘Incremental, necessary’ changes win in Adams County

Commissioners approve oil and gas rules

Posted

Oil and gas companies may have new regulations to navigate in Adams County but County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said they are incremental and necessary.

“I’m not here to end oil and gas but I do believe that regulations need to change along with the times, and small incremental change is what we need to do,” Tedesco said. “We didn’t get into this situation overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight either. So we are going to make our small, incremental changes.”

Commissioners voted 5-0 at their Sept. 3 land use meeting to adopt the rules made possible by state legislation signed into law this spring that lets local governments regulate where and how new drilling and pipeline operations can go.

The new Adams County rules create 1,000-foot setback between oil and gas operations and residences, daycares and schools and Commission Chair Steve O’Dorisio noted that piece has received the most notice publicly and in the news.

“I think people have misconstrued the setbacks in our situation,” he said. “The setback we are talking about is merely a trigger for additional scrutiny, a public hearing, and not an outright prohibition. It’s also not an outright allowance if you are beyond the setback.”

Companies hoping to put an operation closer than 1,000 feet to a residential area can apply for a waiver with the County Commission or can get permission from property owners that would be affected. At the same time, the new rules determine how new developments must operate even if they are outside of a 1,000-foot setback.

“It is still flexible for the folks who live on a farm in eastern Adams County and who want to develop their mineral rights from having to go before a hearing,” O’Dorisio said. “At the same time, if we are concerned about a whole new location, we can review it at a hearing for a permit.”

The new regulations were enabled by state rules signed into law this spring that gives county and municipal officials control to limit oil and gas drilling and pipelines within their jurisdiction. Previously, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had almost total say in approving and limiting oil and gas operations.

Legislators approved the new authority for Colorado counties and municipalities April 3 and Gov. Jared Polis signed it April 16.

Commissioners adopted a moratorium on new oil and gas facilities in the unincorporated parts of the county in March that is due to expire September 20. That moratorium was meant to stop new applications while legislators debated giving local jurisdictions more say.

The Sept. 3 vote effectively ends the moratorium while the county’s new rules come into play.

Public comment

Commissioners heard from more than 75 people at the Sept. 3 meeting, ranging from oil and gas industry representatives, employees living in Adams County and residents on both sides of the issue.

Opponents of the new regulations asked commissioners to end the moratorium without adopting new rules.

“It’s because of oil and gas that we have affordable housing in Adams County, that we have affordable education, affordable materials, food and clothing — because of all the industries based on oil and gas,” resident Bill Bennett said. “These regulations, if we follow them, these happy people in Adams County enjoying wonderful things we have will pay probably 37.6 percent more over the next couple of years.”

Residents opposed to the oil and gas industry urged commissioners to extend the moratorium indefinitely and adopt more stringent rules.

“I am a mineral owner, however, the money I stand to make does not protect my family if something should happen and will not protect the air we breathe or the water we drink,” said Judy Dorris of Commerce City. “If something goes wrong, I would prefer peace of mind over profit any day.”

The county’s new rules would limit where the drilling operations and pipelines would be allowed to go in Adams County. The operations would be allowed with the approval of an oil and gas permit in the Commercial and Industrial zones and the A-2 and A-3 Agriculture zones. Those are designed to allow larger farming, ranching and nurseries.

Oil and gas operations would not be allowed in the Residential, Mobile Home, Conservation or Public Lands zones nor in the A-1 Agriculture zone. That zone is set aside for home sites with limited farming operations. Currently, the county has five well pads in operation in the A-1 zone and one in the Residential zone.

It creates the 1,000-foot setbacks between homes, schools, licensed daycare centers and other developments — twice Colorado’s current 500-foot setback but less than the 2,500 feet setback that voters rejected in Nov. 2018.

“We are establishing significant improvements to protect health, safety and welfare while showing flexibility in area where we’ve seen a greater need for scrutiny and more work to be done,” O’Dorisio said.

Work to do

Commissioners agreed to remove a provision requiring safety training for Adams County oil and gas workers, referring that to a task force to come up with worker safety training guidelines.

Commissioners also removed a provision relating to impacts multiple drilling sites would have on individual neighbors. Instead, the county will wait to see what the new regulations the state adopts next year concerning “cumulative impacts.

“That is an issue in our neighborhoods,” O’Dorisio said. “If one person changes a diaper crowded airplane, that might be a problem. But if every other seat is changing a diaper, it becomes a major problem. So the people living in neighborhoods that have 200, 300, 400 wells around them have a right to ask us and the state to look at those cumulative impacts. I wish we could have done that here, but we listened to our staff saying that additional work needs to be done.”

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