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Boulder County Adopts Temporary Drilling Ban

KUNC file photo.
KUNC file photo.

Boulder County is the latest local government in Colorado to adopt a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas drilling permit applications, as local officials consider overhauling land use regulations to mitigate what's becoming an explosion of oil and gas development associated with the Niobrara shale.

On Thursday, the commission enacted a one-month ban, saying it would consider whether to extend it further after a public meeting which is set for Thursday, March 1st.  

You can read a copy of Resolution 2012-16 here

The news is not necessarily a surprise coming from one of Colorado's most liberal counties.  In a press release marking the vote, the county notes that it actively supported tightening state drilling regulations first proposed by former Governor Bill Ritter, and it supported Governor Hickenlooper's recent mandatory disclosure of fracking fluids, even saying the rule didn't go far enough.  

Conceding there may be little the county can do though under the current law, Boulder officials added that they're supporting a bill in the state legislature by Rep. Matt Jones (D-Louisville) that would give local governments like theirs the ability to pass tougher set-back rules buffering drill rigs from homes and schools. 

As I noted in a report on Jones's bill on Monday, currently only the state has the authority to enforce setbacks. Some cities and counties have been sparring with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the state Attorney General over just who has the purview to enact certain rules and whether those rules conflict with state law.  As that report noted, and a previous one I did for APM's Marketplace,  a lot of folks are predicting that all of this could be headed to the courts. 

It certainly is a complex issue, and a thorny one, with arguments on both sides getting nearly as heated as those over fracking itself. 

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for a nationwide public disclosure law on fracking chemicals for drilling that's occurring on federal lands. But that hasn't satisfied some members of his own party, including Colorado Democratic representatives Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, who penned a letter to the President today arguing that he should enforce a such a disclosure rule that also applies to drilling on private lands.

You can read a copy of the letter here

Polis and DeGette are making their case by pointing to places like the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Niobrara here at home.  In those places, a lot of the drilling - and conflicts associated with it - has been occurring on private land.

I asked Rep. Polis about this and why he thought a national law was even necessary, if states like ours have already passed their own.  

Below you can have a listen to an excerpt from my interview with him today for our newscasts unit.


If you don't have four minutes, in summary, Polis told me that he thinks a national law is in order because energy itself, he argues, is a national issue. 

The Congressman also conceded that his argument - and a related bill he's co-sponsoring with Rep. DeGette - face an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled US House and the polarized Congress generally. 

Correction:  An early version of this blog post erroneously reported that Rep. Polis and Rep. DeGette were calling for a national ban on fracking, when they were actually calling for the President to push for a mandatory disclosure of fracking chemicals for drilling on private and public lands.  The article has been corrected and we regret the error. 

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.