Mountain States

Adams County Issues Moratorium in Anticipation of “Boulder Bill” Passing

Colorado’s SB-181 has not even been signed into law yet, but we may already be seeing its effects.  Yesterday, Adams County commissioners voted unanimously to institute a six-month oil and gas moratorium – just 24 hours after the commission announced its plan to hold the meeting.  Short notice for major actions on oil and gas seems to be a common trend this legislative cycle.

Yesterday’s decision echoed similar actions Adams County took ahead of the 2018 election, when Proposition 112—or the mandated 2,500-foot setback—was on the ballot.  This time, commissioners chose to put a stop to oil and gas activity in anticipation of a rush of permits being filed before SB-181 passes the state legislature and goes into effect.

The move comes at the same time that Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI), a non-profit group that represents a cohort of more than 60 counties, testified in opposition of SB-181.  CCI called for four amendments to be added to the bill which would address several areas of concern dealing with land use authority and how current permits will be handled during the rulemaking process.

The oil and gas industry also had a strong presence at the meeting, with some estimates putting attendance at 80-90 percent of the standing room only crowd.

Throughout testimony, SB-181’s sponsors have been adamant that the bill will not allow for local bans on oil and gas development. But the Colorado Petroleum Council alluded to the fact that SB-181 could have devastating unintended consequences for the state’s oil and gas sector in a statement issued after the Adams County vote.

“’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, 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.’”

First House SB 181 hearing focuses on air quality

Air quality was a big topic of conversation during SB-181’s first hearing in the House on Monday.  During the Energy and Environment Committee hearing, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division Head Gary Kaufman said that “reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector is absolutely critical for Colorado meeting its air quality goals.”  He then went through all the different emissions and substances that are tied to oil and gas production.

Kaufman’s statements had a different tone last week in front of the Senate Finance Committee when he actually lauded steps taken by the Hickenlooper Administration to reduce emissions. Kaufman worked for that administration.

“I do want to very briefly maybe address a little bit of the broader implications, because we have within my division and my commission have a long history of adopting air quality control requirements for industry. I’ve been personally working at it for almost 15 years and during that time we’ve adopted what we believe is the most rigorous ever air quality requirements in the country.”

Though more critical of the oil and gas sector this time around, Kaufman did admit to collaborative successes between industry and stakeholders which have led to drastic emissions cuts and a positive trendline during an exchange with Rep. Larry Liston.

Rep. Liston: I have some data here that says that the Colorado oil and gas industry reduced its emissions by nearly 50 percent in the Denver area over the past six years. And this is a time when oil production has quadrupled statewide. Are those stats accurate?

Kaufman: I can speak to the emissions they have for the volatile organic compounds emissions that I mentioned they have been reduced by approximately 50 percent since 2011.

Rep. Liston: So the industry and the testing and monitoring is in a positive direction.  Is that correct?  We are making progress, it’s not going backwards it’s going forwards.

Kaufman: “Yes I think we are… there’s more work that needs to be done.  I’d also add I think a lot of the progress that’s been done has been achieved through commonsense regulations, both to protect public health and environment and also do so in a cost-effective and reasonable way.”

One provision in SB-181 is to remove considerations of cost and technical feasibility when reviewing permitting applications, so it is interesting that Kaufman would add that in to his answer.

Next up: the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on SB-181 on Monday.

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