County will proceed with reviewing rules and regulations, collaborate with state regulators and subject matter experts
The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners Tuesday voted 3-2 against implementing a temporary six-month moratorium on accepting any applications for Use by Special Review for an oil and gas facility.
The proposed moratorium request came after staff reviewed the first full year of oil and gas regulations approved in November 2021. That review identified areas of opportunity that may be necessary to increase regulatory protections.
The vote came after two days and more than four hours of testimony from residents, industry representatives and other community stakeholders. Commissioners also received several hundred emails from residents on the topic. Those in support of a moratorium expressed health and safety concerns from proposed well pads near the Aurora Reservoir and homes. Testimony against a moratorium cited existing tools to help guide future amendments without restricting new applications.
Commissioners agreed that strong regulations are needed to protect residents and foster energy development within the County.
“We have come a long way as a state and as a county with regards to our oil and gas development,” said Commission Chair Carrie Warren-Gully, District 1. “In 2021 we made great strides in protecting the health and safety of our residents and environment—this is the time for us to put Arapahoe County in a position to have the strongest local oil and gas regulations in the state and possibly the nation. We can and should be the example for other communities about how they too can raise their standards and increase their protections for human health and environment.”
While all agreed that regulations need review and amendment, how the County gets there differed by each commissioner.
"What is important to me in this moment is that we are prudent and responsible in our decision making,” said Jessica Campbell-Swanson, District 2 commissioner, who voted for the moratorium. “If we are serious about prioritizing the health and safety of our people, we need to think about what we can control.” Those controls include adjustments to setbacks from water sources and homes, air quality and greater protection to the environment by examining impact to water quality, wetlands, and wildlife.
District 4 Commissioner Leslie Summey, who voted for the moratorium, said resident feedback is still her number one priority for oil and gas operations.
“My constituents have weighed in: I’ve seen the emails. I can appreciate all the testimony that we have heard today. We owe it to the people who showed up. We owe it to the constituents to make sure we are making the right decision. And if we can’t take six months to see, we have much greater problems.”
While the final vote was split, Commissioners agreed on several points, including a continued review of the county’s current regulations on items such as increased water reservoir setbacks, updating requirements that reflect current fire codes and increased wildlife and habitat protection.
For Commissioner Jeff Baker, property owner rights were a major consideration. “We heard from industry, we heard from property rights of owners, and I think that is what’s coloring my vote on this. It’s more about the property rights of owners. My vote is a vote of confidence that our staff can look at these regulations in as much time as they need, but a moratorium is not needed to get these amendments done.”
Commissioner Bill Holen spoke of the use of alternative fuels to protect the environment.
“I’m very committed to finding ways to economically provide alternative energy and moving us away from our dependency on fossil fuels, but that can’t be accomplished overnight” said Holen. “We can’t snap our fingers and all of a sudden implement alternative energy solutions to solve this problem.”
With the vote complete, county staff will continue the regulatory review process and seek collaborative opportunities with the state to support Governor Polis’ goal to curb harmful air pollution from oil and gas sectors, reducing oil and gas emissions by at least 30 percent in the next two years and at least 50 percent in 2030.
“As we review our regulations, we can work with subject matter experts at the state level to leverage their experience and ensure our regulations are in line with the state or potentially even better. Arapahoe County can and should be a leader in this effort. We need staff to have the time to research our desirable outcomes -- through partnerships with the state, Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, Colorado Department of Health and Environment and air quality control commission,” said Warren-Gully.
Any amendments to the County’s oil and gas regulations need approval from both the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners following public hearings.
The vote was: Commissioner Baker-against; Commissioner Campbell-Swanson-for; Commissioner Holen-against; Commissioner Summey-for; Commissioner Warren-Gully-against.
For more information, visit Arapahoe County Oil and Gas.