Adams County could be first in Colorado to increase oil and gas setbacks under new law

ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. -- Adams County could become the first local government in Colorado to tighten regulations on oil and gas drilling.

Currently, the state requires oil and gas corporations to drill at least 500 feet away from homes and schools.

Senate Bill 181 passed in April. It gives local governments the chance to increase setbacks on their own.

“What we’re finding is that there are large-scale industrial oil and gas developments coming in close to residential neighborhoods, and sometimes being proposed within residential neighborhoods,” said Steve O’Dorisio, who serves as the chairperson of the Board of Adams County Commissioners.

In March, commissioners put a six-month moratorium on new drilling -- excluding permits that had already been submitted -- while they come up with new regulations.

“I don’t anticipate that it would really impact some of the existing wells, but it will allow us to better plan wells in future," O’Dorisio said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association released a statement Sunday, saying:

“Coloradans last fall rejected greater setbacks, knowing our state already has some of the largest statewide setbacks in the nation and knowing they are protective of public health. A state study in 2017 looked at 10,000 air samples near oil and gas developments and saw no reason to lengthen the setback distance. The question for Adams County, given the breadth and depth of their proposed rules, is whether they intend to remain a place where Coloradans can live and work. We will be talking with Adams County as they consider a number of potential regulations, including unnecessary changes to setbacks.”

The first part of the statement refers to Proposition 112. It would have increased setbacks to 2,500 feet.

O’Dorisio says that distance is too extreme.

Instead, commissioners are looking at a 1,000-foot setback.

“When we update our regulations, we want to make sure that we are fair, open and transparent — and that means allowing stakeholders from all different areas to be able to have input and tell us what they think of the different iterations as we go through the drafts," O’Dorisio said.

The Colorado Petroleum Council also released a statement Sunday:

“Since Senate Bill 181's passage, we have seen the implementation of eight moratoriums at the local or county levels. In addition, numerous local jurisdictions are analyzing their new authority, with some drafting new rules and regulations, while others await action from the state. On the whole, none of this provides stability for the industry in Colorado, and that's what we want: stability, commonsense regulations, and the ability to safely and responsibly develop energy that all Coloradans use on a daily basis. We are currently working closely with Adams County through their rulemaking stakeholder process, providing substantive feedback every step of the way. We hope that they will continue to be receptive to what has been a good, open dialogue thus far.” 

Commissioners could vote on whether to implement the new regulations by the end of August.

Laura Wilson wrote this report.

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