Boulder County adopts strongest set of regulations on oil and gas development in the State of Colorado

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For Immediate Release
March 23, 2017

Boulder County Commissioners' Office
Barb Halpin, Public Information Officer

Boulder County adopts the strongest set of regulations on oil and gas development in the State of Colorado 

The regulations will apply to oil and gas development applications
filed after May 1, 2017

Boulder County, Colo. -  At a public meeting on Thursday, March 23, the Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt new regulations for oil and gas operations in the unincorporated areas of Boulder County. The new regulations are considered to be the most stringent in the state of Colorado and will serve to employ the county’s land use authority to protect local public health and the environment. The regulations will apply to oil and gas development applications filed after May 1, 2017.

During their deliberations, the county commissioners expressed their continued regret and frustration that state law preempts local control in many areas of oil and gas development. They also affirmed their ongoing multi-pronged approach to gaining more local control over oil and gas extraction activities.

The first prong in protecting Boulder County's community and environmental interests was accomplished today by adopting the toughest possible regulations anywhere in the state of Colorado. Additional areas of focus will be discussed at a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 25 at 11 a.m. in the Commissioners' Hearing Room in Boulder. 

Statements from the Board of County Commissioners

“Without a tough set of regulations in our Land Use Code, we risk losing the ability to protect our community from oil and gas activity that is currently allowed under state law,” said Deb Gardner, Chair of the Boulder County Commissioners. “If we didn’t adopt these regulations today, and we lost the lawsuit currently filed against us by the Colorado Attorney General and members of the oil and gas industry, our old outdated regulations would stand in place - and we can’t afford to have that happen.”

Commissioner Elise Jones said, “We and the State of Colorado do not agree on where the authority over local drilling operations should lie. But, by working with staff, legal counsel, and members of the public for many years to get these regulations as protective as possible, we are confident that these new regulations are by far the most comprehensive and protective local regulations in Colorado. While we wish we could completely control or prevent all aspects of oil and gas development within Boulder County, we are doing everything we can under the current law to protect our local air, water, public health, and the environment with these new regulations.”

Commissioner Cindy Domenico added, “Like everyone we’ve heard from over the past several years, we are very concerned about the potential for expanded oil and gas activity in Boulder County. The intensive drilling operations that we see along the Northern Front Range of Colorado are heavily industrial in nature. We need to have in place strong new regulations that maximize our ability to use our land use authority – one of the few local control tools we have under current state law - to protect our residents and the environment.“

“This is an important step in our approach to addressing concerns about oil and gas development raised by our residents,” added Commissioner Domenico. “But this is only one piece of the puzzle. We will continue to examine every option available to us.”

“The oil and gas industry has already sent lawyers to Boulder County to claim that these new regulations go too far,” added Commissioner Gardner. “We felt there was too much at stake for our residents to expose them to our outdated regulations and leave the county vulnerable to much more intensive drilling operations than when we passed our last set of regulations in 2012.”

Commissioner Jones closed by saying, “The regulations are not enough, but they are necessary. We acknowledge that they alone do not give us enough control over what happens within the boundaries of Boulder County when it comes to oil & gas development. On April 25 we will talk about the many other ways that we are working to address this effort on all fronts.”


In May 2016, Colorado Supreme Court rulings invalidated fracking bans and long-term moratoria. These rulings called into question a Boulder County moratorium that was scheduled to expire in July 2018. 

After the Colorado Supreme Court rulings, Boulder County terminated its prior moratorium and adopted a new, temporary moratorium, which is set to expire May 1, 2017. Early in 2017, the Colorado Attorney General and oil and gas industry groups challenged the county’s latest moratorium in court. 

The county enacted the new moratorium in order to provide the county with enough time to review and update the oil and gas regulations that were adopted in 2012, and to prepare for implementation of those regulations. In the time since the last regulations were adopted, significant changes have taken place in the ways that industry extracts oil and gas in communities along the Colorado Front Range. Specifically, the trend is towards large-scale, consolidated facilities that leave a much larger footprint and have much greater impact on the communities in which they reside.

The new 2017 regulations address these (and other) concerns that were not adequately covered under the 2012 regulations:

  • Industry’s shift toward large-scale, consolidated facilities
  • Concerns with intensity of oil and gas development
  • Additional  information about impacts
  • Rulemaking at the State level (Governor’s Task Force, etc.)
  • Concerns with impacts on community and environment

What will the new regulations do?

Under the approved regulations, the County will require Special Use Review for all new oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder County.

The new regulations are:

  • Comprehensive – They ask for detailed information and plans from operators in order to fully evaluate impacts and assess site-specific circumstances related to each oil and gas development application. They ask for alternative site locations.
  • Inclusive – The regulations require extensive notice to surrounding landowners, provide multiple opportunities for public input, including a neighborhood meeting and public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners.
  • Protective  – The regulations will closely scrutinize all proposed oil and gas development and hold operators to a high standard. The county will use 17 criteria to evaluate potential impacts on the surrounding area and the environment.
  • Specific – The regulations provide details on conditions of approval and mitigation measures that the county may impose to reduce the impacts on neighboring landowners and preserve the county land and environment.
  • Enforceableall approved oil and gas development will be subject close monitoring and operators will be required to comply with all requirements and mitigation measures. 

Some of the more defining components new regulations include options for:

  • Air quality monitoring
  • Hydrocarbon emissions control measures, including  use of infra-red cameras to detect and repair leaks of equipment used on the well site
  • Water well sampling and testing
  • Conditions of approval that will reduce impacts to the site/area/resources, including change in location, use of pipelines to reduce truck traffic, reduction of the number of wells, adjustment of pad dimensions, use of shared infrastructure, visual buffering/landscaping, etc.
  • Disruption payments to surrounding occupants of residential structures who are affected by drilling activities – an operator would be required to pay the cost to rent  a replacement home  for the number of months construction and drilling take place, plus the cost to move away and back
  • Emergency preparedness and response plan
  • Reporting, monitoring, and inspections