From gas well neighbor Christine Nyholm’s perspective, Adams County doesn’t need to be in a big hurry to adopt new oil and gas regulations — at least until new state rules come out. “You need …
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From gas well neighbor Christine Nyholm’s perspective, Adams County doesn’t need to be in a big hurry to adopt new oil and gas regulations — at least until new state rules come out.
“You need to lengthen your moratorium,” Nyholm told a group of county staffers Aug. 15 at an open house meant to review new rules for oil and gas operations in Adams County. “You need to put this all on hold until we have state regulations and we know what we are dealing with. To do anything differently does not live up the law itself.”
The Adams County Commissioners are scheduled to vote Sept. 3 on creating a special permit for oil and gas drilling and piping operations, banning the work from certain zones and creating stricter setbacks.
The county Planning Commission took up the matter at its Aug. 8 meeting and was scheduled to host a public hearing at the Aug. 22 meeting.
The county’s proposed regulations were made possible by new state rules signed into law this spring that gives county and municipal officials control to limit oil and gas drilling and pipelines within their jurisdiction. Legislators approved the new authority for Colorado counties and municipalities April 3 and Gov. Jared Polis signed it April 16.
Previously, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had almost total say in approving and limiting oil and gas operations.
Commissioners adopted a moratorium on new oil and gas facilities in the unincorporated parts of the county in March that is due to expire September 20. That moratorium was meant to stop new applications while legislators debated given local jurisdictions more say.
But the new state rules also changed the way the state’s Oil and Gas Commission operated, changing its job to promoting health and safety rather than balancing economic benefit with health and safety concerns.
Nyholm, who lives in unincorporated Adams County in the Wadley Farms subdivision, said she wants to see what the state agency comes up with.
“What happens between now and 2020 when the COGCC finishes their rulemaking?” Nyholm said. “What if they come up with greater regulations than Adams County has? Now we have all of these wells approved by Adams County that can be grandfathered in.”
Zoning and setbacks
The county’s proposed rules would limit where the drilling operations and pipelines would be allowed to go in Adams County. The operations would be allowed with the approval of an oil and gas permit in the Commercial and Industrial zones and the A-2 and A-3 Agriculture zones. Those are designed to allow larger farming, ranching and nurseries.
Oil and gas operations would not be allowed in the Residential, Mobile Home, Conservation or Public Lands zones nor in the A-1 Agriculture zone. That zone is set aside for home sites with limited farming operations. Currently, the county has five well pads in operation in the A-1 zone and one in the Residential zone.
It would also create 1,000-foot setbacks between homes, schools, licensed daycare centers and other developments — less than the 2,500 feet setback that voters rejected in Nov. 2018.
Nyholm said that was her biggest concern, and that she favors much longer setbacks.
“If we put in a regulation of a 1,000 foot setback, that really is just business as usual,” she said. “That does nothing to set safety as a priority, like the state law says. It’s just business as usual with a 1,000 feet.”
Adams County Oil and Gas Liason Christine Dougherty pointed out there is more to the new rules than setbacks.
The county’s new rules also set up a list of requirements for drilling companies, including keeping safety management, emergency response and spill plans up to date, managing chemical inventory and waste management protocols, water quality testing, leak detection requirements and air and noise complaints. It sets out a list of 23 chemicals that cannot be used for hydraulic fracturing — fracking.
The new rules also require operators to keep an incident log and to report to the county all spills or leaks that would have only been reported to the state before.
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