Adams County passes strict oil and gas regulations; industry officials call them overreach

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Published Thursday, September 5, 2019

By Derek Draplin | The Center Square

The Adams County Board of Commissioners approved new regulations for oil and gas development, a move that drew criticism from the industry.

The suburban Denver county in March approved a 6-month moratorium on oil and gas development ahead of lawmakers finally approving Senate Bill 181, which seeks to give local governments more say in regulating the industry.

The new law, signed by Governor Jared Polis in April, changed the focus of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, the state's regulatory body for the industry, from industry development to health, safety and the environment.

The regulations were opposed by many in the industry and communities, like Weld County, which relies heavily on oil and gas development as economic drivers.

Since the legislation passed, counties have diverged in their reactions to the new regulations.

The new regulations approved Tuesday in a 5-0 vote by the Adams County Board of Commissioners include a requirement that oil and gas developments be set back 1,000-feet from occupied buildings. 

"Since counties and cities have been given authority over oil and gas development, our staff has been hard at work creating a set of regulations that is fair to the industry but also provides for the safety of our residents," Board Chair Steve O'Dorisio said in a statement. "It's a tough line to toe, but we think these regulations balance the interests of all parties involved."

Oil and gas industry groups warned some of the rule changes approved by the board would hurt development in the county.

Lynn Granger, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said "many of the provisions contained within these new rules and regulations will significantly hinder future natural gas and oil development within the county."

"Senate Bill 181 granted local jurisdictions authority to regulate natural gas and oil development to an extent that is necessary and reasonable," Granger added. "Regrettably, many of the regulations of the code as adopted by Adams County today extend far beyond those which are necessary or reasonable."

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) said the new regulations passed by the board amount to overreach.

"By approving these new, unreasonable regulations, Adams County commissioners ignored the will of their citizens and the overwhelming number of people who testified today against this unnecessary overreach." COGA President Dan Haley said. "More than 5,000 oil and natural gas families live in Adams County. They're proud to live there and to work in Colorado, providing more than $1.5 billion in economic benefit to their local communities. They deserved better representation from their local government."

COGA also cited Senate Bill 181's requirement that regulations be "necessary and reasonable."

Officials in Weld County, the state's top energy producer, have tested the boundaries of the new law in a different way.

Last month, Weld County opened the Oil and Gas Energy Department (OGED) to "exercise local control over mineral resources." The office will handle permitting and land use regulations for developments in the county.

The COGCC sent warning shots to Weld County officials prior to the OGED being established, saying it still had regulatory authority over county officials.

"While SB 19-181 provides local governments with siting authority over oil and gas surface locations, it does not diminish the COGCC's authority to regulate the orderly development of oil and gas throughout the state," COGCC said in a letter to the county. "To the contrary, SB19-181 reaffirms the critical role for the COGCC in numerous places."

COGCC is in the process of rewriting state regulations to comply with the new law that was passed in April. may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.