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Coverage of energy that moves beyond polarized arguments and emotional debate to explore the points of tension, the tradeoffs and opportunities, and the very human consequences of energy policy, production, use and innovation.Inside Energy is a collaboration of seven public media outlets in the nation's energy epicenter: Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.

In Wake Of Court Decision, Boulder County Works On New Oil And Gas Regulations

Leigh Paterson
Inside Energy
Boulder's Pearl Street Mall

Forced to by a court decision, officials in Boulder County say the moratorium they put in place to contend with concerns over fracking will be lifted by next month. The county's commissioners met on Wednesday to hear from members of the public. Many speakers, with a variety of viewpoints on energy development, were critical of lengthy new draft regulations that would monitor oil and gas operations to identify potential leaks, require operators to meet with nearby landowners, and set a minimum required distance of 50 feet between pipelines and occupied structures.

Some speakers said they want commissioners to make the temporary moratorium that's been in place since 2012 permanent. The back story is a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in May that went against the cities of Longmont, which is in Boulder County, and Fort Collins to the north. Both had rules that limited drilling and the court said that was "invalid and unenforceable" because local regulations cannot trump state law.

Officials in Boulder County are contending with  that ruling and now plan to lift the moratorium there on Nov. 18. The county's meetings are meant to involve the public in crafting new regulations before that date. 

People voiced concerns over oil and gas industry-caused earthquakes, worker safety and environmental impacts of drilling operations in neighborhoods.

"I assume everyone here is aware of the impacts that come from industrial oil and gas development," said Tricia Olson, an activist who lives in Gunbarrel, east of the City of Boulder. "The health risks, the air pollution, contamination of the ground and water, potential for fires, explosion, increased radioactivity, nuisances, impact of methane on the climate and the long term threats to local economies in mineral-rich sacrifice zones from an over-leveraged boom-bust industry. This all has to stay in our minds as we look at these regulations."

Mark Matthews was the lead attorney for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the state's top industry group, at the Supreme Court. He said in comments to the commissioners that local governments can weigh in on issues like zoning. 

"The Colorado Supreme Court made it very clear that the regulation of oil and gas is a matter fundamentally of state, primary jurisdiction," Matthews added.

That is the problems with these regulations Matthews argued. He said that parts of the Boulder County proposal are in conflict with state regulations.  

The board of county commissions will meet again and hear public comment on Nov. 15, putting final regulations in place on Nov. 17. 

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