Adams County halts oil-and-gas applications for up to 6 months

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AURORA | With staff recommendation, Adams County commissioners unanimously approved  a six-month moratorium on oil and gas applications Wednesday after two-and-a-half hours of testimony, much of which came from people working in the oil and gas industry.

“My decision isn’t based on banning anything,” said commissioner Chaz Tedesco in response to many opposed to the moratorium claimed the measure would negatively impact the industry and the people who work in it. “I don’t want to ban anything.”

The moratorium will be in place for six months or until the board takes another action, according to the resolution, which was posted online one day before the hearing. Even with short notice, which many noted during their testimony, dozens turned out to the meeting. 

Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told the board he and the industry “…ask that politics not trump policy,” and that voters in the county have already spoken when overturning Prop. 112 in November — it would have mandated 2,500-feet setbacks. 

But commissioners affirmed that the moratorium is only a response to the likely rule changes coming from state lawmakers with the expected passage of SB181, which will shift application approval and regulation to local governments, and has nothing to do with Prop. 112 or the decision of voters then.

“We have to learn to work together in this, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Tedesco said of the passed resolution. He described the moratorium as a way to look at the new tools the state may hand over to local lawmakers, like the board of county commissioners, and the best way to implement them. 

Aurora City Councilwoman Nicole Johnston testified in favor of the moratorium on behalf of herself and constituents and urged the body to approve the measure because of staff recommendations. An Adams County attorney said she and other staff do not “feel like our current regulations are sufficient enough.”

Kristian Sullivan, the county’s economic development director, explained that the total number of permits under review by the state include 423 wells in unincorporated Adams County. There are currently seven new locations with 226 wells going through the county permitting process. 

There are eight new locations with 133 wells under state review in the state process with no county application filed.

Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said he wants the oil and gas industry to be part of the stakeholder group in deciding how to regulate the industry at the local level. 

The moratorium went into effect immediately following the vote. O’Dorisio said he was prepared to make the moratorium contingent on the passage of SB181, but said that changed when he realized the number of applications that may continue to flood in with the likelihood of SB181 passing.

“I came in today and an operator submitted application for 22 wells,” he said.

Johnston, too, echoed the number of applications as a reason why Adams County commissioners should approve the moratorium. She floated a moratorium for the city of Aurora a few weeks ago, but has since held it back to see how the state bill will continue to change.

None of the applications already under review or approved by the county prior to the vote will be impacted by the moratorium, county staff and lawmakers said.

The decision has already attracted scrutiny from oil and gas advocates.

“Adams County’s commissioners have just given Coloradans a glimpse of the consequences that Senate Bill 181 will have in the state,” said Ben Marter, a Colorado Petroleum Council spokesman. “Again and again, proponents of this bill have explicitly denied any suggestions that the measure would permit municipalities and counties to do exactly what has happened in Adams County today.

“This is the second time in four months that Adams County’s commissioners have voted to ban natural gas and oil development,” continued Marter. “As was the case during the debate over Proposition 112 last fall, the commission’s decision is clearly and explicitly reactive to Senate Bill 181, highlighted in the actual language of today’s moratorium.”

The moratorium, also unanimously approved, by the board in October lasted about a week.