Oil and gas development activities (including hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”) along the Front Range, and in Boulder County and nearby counties, has increased significantly in recent years. These activities can pose dangers and risks including air and water (surface and groundwater) pollution, risks to human health, and ecosystem damage. The City of Boulder and Boulder County have for decades worked together to protect their residents and the valuable and fragile ecosystems of the Boulder Valley. Among those efforts is the City of Boulder’s acquisition and management of over 45,000 acres of open space purchased using public funds.
Colorado Senate Bill 19-181 was approved in 2019 and gives local governments more discretion in regulating oil and gas development to protect the public health and welfare.
Among the tools that should be considered for creation or revision are:
- regulations administered by the Open Space Board of Trustees regarding oil and gas activities on Open Space land;
- portions of the Boulder Revised Code, as part of the Use Review process, that govern oil and gas activities with the city;
- regulations (currently there are none) pertaining to oil and gas activities on city park land;
- development of a Watershed Protection District to protect the city’s watershed and city utility owned land;
- intergovernmental agreements between the city and Boulder County and/or other counties in support of regulating oil and gas activities on City-owned land; and
- other tools as identified by this process.
A series of events and state and county regulatory changes have prompted the need to reconsider and revise as necessary Boulder’s regulations regarding mining operations, principally oil and gas operations in both the city and the county as they may impact city-owned Open Space, city-owned parklands and planning-reserve land located in the county.
Land Use Code Sections Under Review
On July 16, 2019 the Boulder County Commissioners enacted a temporary moratorium on the acceptance and processing of new oil and gas development applications and seismic testing. The moratorium was originally set to expire on March 28, 2020 but has been extended to July 31, 2020.
- Conduct a thorough assessment of the city and county regulatory tools and state and federal law governing local regulation of oil and gas activities and recommend a set of regulatory reforms that adequately protect (to the greatest degree possible under state and federal law) the interests of the city and its residents; and
- Prior to the expiration of the moratorium on Dec. 31, 2020, develop and seek approval for those regulatory reforms, which may include code amendments, intergovernmental agreements, and others.
Adoption of a set of regulatory reforms that adequately protect (to the greatest degree possible under state and federal law) the interests of the city and its residents.
History of Regulatory Changes
- June 4, 2013: The Boulder City Council adopted Ordinance 7907 prohibiting the city manager and city staff from accepting or processing any application for oil and gas exploration permits on City of Boulder Open Space properties and any application for use review under Title 9 of the Boulder Revised Code involving oil and gas extraction or exploration. This moratorium was to continue until June 3, 2014.
- June 4, 2013: The Boulder City Council adopted Ordinance 7908 banning the use, sale or supply of city water for oil and gas extraction.
- July 16, 2013: The Boulder City Council adopted Ordinance 7915 submitting a vote to the electors whether to approve an extension the Oil and Gas Moratorium adopted in Ordinance 7907. This ballot measure was passed by the electors on November 5, 2013 and extended the Moratorium to June 3, 2018.
- May 15, 2018: The Boulder City Council adopted Ordinance 8253 further extending the moratorium on the acceptance and processing of applications for drilling permits on City of Boulder Open Space properties and for any city permits or Use Review of oil and gas extraction in the city. The moratorium is set to expire June 3, 2020.
- April 16, 2019: Governor Polis signed into law SB19-181, which among other things expanded the ability of local governments to regulate oil and gas development.
- June 2019: The Boulder County Commissioners authorized county staff to work on Docket DC-19-0002 Amendments to Article 12 of the county Land Use Code, which addresses oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder County.
As these events have unfolded, a review of the city’s oil and gas regulatory regime has deemed it inadequate to protect the city’s interests, especially (but not limited to) with respect to city-owned Open Space, Utilities, Parks, and planning reserve land within Boulder County.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are oil and gas operations regulated?
In Colorado, oil and gas development is regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) , a division of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. COGCC manages all below-ground aspects of oil and gas drilling and conducts the state permitting process. Operators must obtain permits from both the COGCC and the city through separate processes before any new activity can begin. Learn more about the COGCC regulatory process.
What does Colorado Senate Bill 19-181 do?
Colorado Senate Bill 19-181 ensures that oil and gas development and operations in Colorado are regulated in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife resources. The COGCC is in the midst of reviewing its rules and procedures to evaluate what changes are required to reflect the new law’s requirements. See the COGCC website.
Can the City of Boulder ban oil and gas operations?
Likely no. While SB 19-181 gives local governments more authority to regulate oil and gas development and allows a local government’s regulations to be more protective or stricter than state requirements to protect public health, safety, and welfare and the environment, SB 19-181 did not give blanket authority to prohibit oil and gas development or enact long-term moratorium.
Does the City of Boulder already regulate oil and gas development?
The city currently permits “Mining Industries” in the Industrial Manufacturing (IM), Industrial General (IG) and Agricultural (A) zoning districts with Use Review approval (a discretionary review process that must meet the criteria of Section 9-2-15(e), B.R.C. 1981 to be approved.
Mining Industries are defined as follows:
"Mining industries means a facility or business engaged in the removal of any earth materials, including those extracted from open mining and oil and natural gas drilling or production, from places of natural occurrence to surface locations."
There are no specific regulations to mining industries or oil and gas development in the current Use Review process. As part of this project, city staff is developing new requirements and standards consistent with the latest updates to State Law and consider if the zoning districts above are appropriate should any oil and gas development be proposed.
What is the process and how can I provide feedback?
Community engagement activities will kick-off in in the second quarter of 2020 where community members will be able to share their feedback by participating in events and responding online. Community feedback will help inform recommendations made to City Council later in the year.