It may be weeks before Adams County officials learn how a new oil and gas commission will operate — but that’s exactly why they enacted a moratorium on wells in the middle of March. “We saw a …
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It may be weeks before Adams County officials learn how a new oil and gas commission will operate — but that’s exactly why they enacted a moratorium on wells in the middle of March.
“We saw a changing landscape of a regulatory process, and there was a strong possibility that the whole process was going to change,” Adams County Public Information Director Jim Siedlecki said. “So we decided to call a time out.”
Adams County Commissioner’s placed a moratorium on new wells March 19 while legislators debated Senate Bill 181, which lets county and municipal officials control and possibly limit oil and gas drilling and pipelines within their jurisdiction. Legislators approved the new rules April 3, sending it to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.
Before, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had almost total say in approving and limiting oil and gas operations.
“But we have had no idea what SB 181 is going to say and what it’s going to mean,” Siedlecki said. “The applications continued to come in so we wanted to take a pause and see how they’d be regulated in the future.”
In all, there are 960 active wells in Adams County — 818 in the unincorporated sections of Adams County, 88 in Thornton, 31 in Aurora,11 in Brighton, nine in Commerce City, two in Westminster and one in Lochbuie. Those wells produced 3.4 million barrels of oil in 2018 and 1.3 million barrel equivalents of natural gas in 2018.
Statewide, the oil and gas industry produced about 1.73 billion barrels of oil and 401 million barrel equivalents of natural gas in 2018.
The number of applications for drilling permits in unincorporated Adams County has quadrupled since Colorado voted down a ballot question that would have put more controls on the industry.
So far, 24 permits are in the process of being approved for oil and gas extraction operations in unincorporated Adams County in 2019. As a comparison, the county approved a total of six permits in all of 2018.
Since November 2018 — when Colorado voters turned down Proposition 112, a ballot issue that would have increased distances between oil and gas developments and homes and schools — Adams County issued five permits for new well operations. Those permits covered 72 new well sites in eastern Adams County, mostly east of Barr Lake, according to Jen Rutter, development services manager for Adams County’s Community and Economic Development Department.
Eight permits are still pending a county decision. Those had entered the county’s system before the latest moratorium. One of them, filed by Extraction Oil on Gas on the morning the moratorium was adopted, includes 22 well sites.
“Even the ones that have applied with us, we will continue processing them and eventually issue a determination and issue an approval under the current status quo,” Rutter said. “Likely they will be approved or sent to the County Commissioners for a public hearing.”
Even those eight — seven from Great Western Operating and the one from Extraction Oil and Gas — represent bigger operations.
“But we have a lot in the pipeline now, so to speak, so we are on a course to permit a lot,” she said. “And a lot of these permits now are of much higher in the number of wells. We have one permit that is for 44 wells, for example.”
But Rutter said the moratorium has delayed another 11 permits for unincorporated Adams County that had been approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission but had not begun the county’s review process yet. Those permits represent roughly 360 drilling sites in eastern Adams County.
That is the reason the county approved the moratorium in the first place, Siedlecki said.
“This is just a temporary moratorium, until we can see what the state’s new rules look like,” he said.
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