Aurora City Council approves oil and gas operator agreements

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AURORA | New oil and gas developments in Aurora may soon be made with operator agreements. The city council unanimously approved a measure allowing the negotiations during the regular Monday meeting.

The ordinance allows the city to work with oil and gas developers to reach agreements over the permitting process and standards regarding drilling in city limits. A similar process is already in place in Broomfield.

The oil and gas applications approved through an operator agreement would not be subject to the current appeal process or call-up provisions of the zoning code, according to the bill. Oil and gas applicants would still have the ability to apply for development through the current process.

A presentation from outside legal counsel in a previous study session highlighted some of the pros of using operator agreements, including: minimizing the risk of lawsuits, being able to negotiate enhanced protections and offering a streamlined permitting process.

Council member Nicole Johnston said she believes the operator agreements to be better policy than the administrative process the city has long followed, and that passage of state legislation, SB181, to shift oil and gas control to local government could only make the operator agreements stronger.

“In my opinion, we are still limited with current law of what we can ask to include in our operator agreements,” she said. “After 181 we will be able to expect more.”

Council members had the option on Monday evening of passing the ordinance with emergency status, meaning that it concerns resident health, safety or welfare. Emergency status allows the ordinance to skip the referendum period of 30 days and has to be passed unanimously.

Council members Allison Hiltz, Crystal Murillo, Angela Lawson and Johnston voted against the ordinance having emergency status.

Johnston said with the likely passage of SB181, she didn’t want to speed up the process for the agreements. 

“I will not be supporting the emergency ordinance because for many of my constituents… the process around oil and gas is a contentious issue, and I’d like to have more opportunity instead of speeding that up,” she said prior to the emergency vote.

Oil and gas negotiations have been ongoing during city council executive sessions, which exclude public participation. It’s so far unclear how those negotiations may be impacted by the timeline of approving operator agreements.

City council members declined to officially back the state legislation earlier this month.

Last year, the City of Aurora brought in a total of $284,387 from oil and gas sector taxes, including local taxes and state and federal taxes allocated to the city, according to a city spokesperson. From 2014 through 2018, the City received over $1.7 million – $1 million of which was appropriated for affordable housing in the 2019 budget.