Aurora takes first step in allowing, but not forcing, oil and gas pacts as statewide local control measure looms

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AURORA | Like other Front Range municipalities, such as Broomfield, oil and gas development in the city of Aurora may be soon approved through operator agreements. 

A draft of an ordinance debuted at a city council study session Monday and was supported unanimously to move to a regular study session where it will have to be approved to become part of the city code. The ordinance, if passed, would allow the city to work with oil and gas developers to reach agreements over the permitting process and standards regarding drilling in city limits.

The ability to enter operator agreements would also be afforded to pipelines, according to the draft.

A presentation from outside legal counsel 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. 

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.

Council member Nicole Johnston, who earlier this month proposed a moratorium unless an operator agreement was met, said there are parts of the current code relating to oil and gas development she wants to see updated: like, requiring notice to homebuyers that are within 500 feet of nearby oil and gas facilities. She said she’d like to see that change to 2,000 feet.

The code change request comes as state legislators clash over a controversial bill, SB181, that would shift oil and gas decision making from the state to local governments. It was the driver behind Johnston’s proposed moratorium. She stifled that proposal to wait and see how state lawmakers might handle the transition.

Adams County commissioners, however, decided the opposite last week, and unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on oil and gas applications. They made the decision with staff recommendations to do so. The county’s attorney said staff didn’t feel like they are adequately prepared for the likely shift in control.