Thornton

Thornton stiffens oil and gas drilling rules

State attorney general’s office issues warning letter to city

Posted 8/28/17

Thornton runs the risk of getting sued over steeper oil and gas regulations, Mayor Heidi Williams warned city councilors at their Aug. 22 meeting.

“The oil and gas industry is a huge investor in the state of Colorado,” Williams said. “Not …

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Thornton

Thornton stiffens oil and gas drilling rules

State attorney general’s office issues warning letter to city

Posted

Thornton runs the risk of getting sued over steeper oil and gas regulations, Mayor Heidi Williams warned city councilors at their Aug. 22 meeting.

“The oil and gas industry is a huge investor in the state of Colorado,” Williams said. “Not only does it bring good economic viability to the state, but it brings jobs. They are not the enemy, and I do not want them treated like the enemy.”

Councilors went ahead approved a slate of bolstered oil and gas regulations at the meeting, passing it by a 7-2 vote.

“These new regulations are not perfect,” Councilor Josh Zygielbaum said. “There is still a lot of work to be done and those conversations are being had among city councilors. One important piece here is that it is groundwork, and it’s flexible groundwork.”

Only Williams and Councilor Janifer Kulmann voted against the measure, arguing they might go too far. Kulman noted that Thornton does not have any pending drilling proposals that these rules would regulate.

“To put something in now, something that puts us at risk especially for something we don’t have right now, seems a little short-sighted to me,” Kullman said. “We have the opportunity to take a step back and come up with something that really matters. I feel like we are doing something to take arrows for other communities, instead of looking out for Thornton.”

The new rules are aimed at companies hoping to drill within the city limits. Councilors approved them on first reading at their July 25 meeting, scheduling a final vote Aug. 22. City staff and councilors have been working on the regulations for more than a year.

Part of the new city rules would keep all well pads and production facilities at least 750 feet from existing or proposed buildings and 500 feet from bodies or water or irrigation ditches. The new rules also would stop the practice of abandoning flow lines but leaving them in place.

An abandoned line was blamed for a mid-April explosion in Firestone that killed two and left Mountain Range High School teacher Erin Martinez hospitalized and seriously injured.

But councilors received a good deal of criticism for the new regulations, including a letter from the state attorney general’s office.

According to the letter, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission already regulates both changes, with different setbacks for pads and production. The commission’s rules allow abandoning flow lines in place, and the attorney general’s letter notes that local governments are not allowed to enact regulations that conflict with the commission’s regulations, according to state law.

Thornton’s new rules would also require operators to keep insurance against property damage and personal injury of up to $5 million per occurence. The commission’s rules set the limit at $1 million per occurrence.

Too far or not far enough

While the mayor and Councilor Kulmann argued the regulations went too far, Councilor Sam Nizam disagreed. The greater liability insurance is fair, he said, as are the 750-foot setbacks.

“I don’t believe 750 feet is excessive for a setback,” he said. “We have the same setbacks for liquor stores and marijuana shops.”

But members of oil industry monitoring groups said they were disappointed and hoped for greater limits and even larger setbacks. Thornton resident Suzanne Cabral, of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy, said she’d hoped for 2,5000-foot setbacks.

“The well blowout in Weld County a few months ago covered 1,000 square feet,” Cabral said. “There was a study in March 2016 that states that setbacks are insufficient to protect people from these kinds of events and blowouts and explosions.”

Thornton resident Stacey Lambright of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradoans said the regulations may not be enough, but they are a start.

“We applaud the council for making these first steps, and as Councilor Zygielbaum said, we must continue,” Lambright said. “It should be an ever-changing document. The oil and gas industry is constantly changing so we need to make sure we keep up.”

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