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Erie Wades Into The Ongoing Debate On Oil & Gas Local Control

Jim Hill
Flaring gas wells near homes in Greeley in 2013. Other area towns, like Erie, have struggled with how to regulate oil and gas operations near residences.

In the ongoing saga of just how much control cities and other municipalities in Colorado can have over oil and gas development, the town of Erie hopes it has hit a Goldilocks position.

Municipalities that ban fracking or otherwise overstep the bounds of legality in a state where extracting riches from the ground is enshrined in law have been sued -- and lost. Local governments like Erie wishing to exert more control without facing costly legal battles have to strike a balance that protects their residents but is also within the bounds of state law.

That’s what town trustee Jennifer Carroll said she hoped the town achieved with the changes it made to rules governing drilling operations.

"We’ve seen so many other communities institute codes that are in violation of state law, blatantly, and now they’re getting sued and they are spending a lot of money. We don’t want to waste taxpayer dollars," said Carroll.

By regulating the permitting process and what happens on the surface, versus beneath the ground, the town hopes it strikes this balance. 

The new rules offer three options to oil and gas operators. The first, which the town hopes companies opt for, offers a streamlined permit process in exchange for agreements to follow more stringent regulations, like 1000-foot setbacks from homes. State regulations set the setback limit at 500 feet.

Another option for operators is to follow a standard permitting process that allows them to follow state rules, but involves several public hearings and will take longer.

The third option is for operators to enter into agreements with the town, such as the one Erie negotiated with Encana, an oil and gas operator active in the area. That agreement even includes wells drilled outside the town limits but within close proximity to houses on the edge of town, moving wells further away than legally required.

The move to update town rules came after residents had negative experiences with drilling. One notable example came in December 2014, when an Encana site in the town had significantproblems with noise.

Carroll said she hoped these new rules would help the town get ahead of drilling, instead of always feeling like it was reacting to projects after they had won state approval.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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