Larimer County commissioners delay oil and gas regulation vote after extensive public comment

An overwhelming amount of public comment on changes to oil and gas regulations in Larimer County pushed a hearing late Monday so the county commissioners will have to return Thursday for a potential vote.

Discussion around regulation changes to the county’s land use code regarding oil and gas have carried on for several months and several rounds of public input. Some of the proposed regulations include:

  • Requiring new oil and gas pipelines and seismic survey operations to submit to the county’s administrative special review process, which does not mandate a neighborhood meeting but does include a review by county staff.
  • Restricting oil and gas operations to a handful of nonresidential zones.
  • Specifying unique setbacks for new oil and gas facilities from occupied buildings such as schools, public water supplies, outdoor amenities and surface water.
  • Defining requirements for baseline air quality monitoring, high-frequency monitoring and details of an Air Quality Mitigation Plan, as well as general best practices that could be used as approval conditions and special requirements during state-declared “Air Quality Advisory Days.”
  • Requiring leak detection be performed at least annually at all oil and gas facilities.
  • Increasing the frequency and scope of water well testing.

More information on the oil and gas regulation changes can be found at larimer.org.

Monday night community members packed into the commissioners board room to discuss the proposed changes.

Prior to the several hours of public comment, the commissioners heard from outside consultant Matt Sura who provided a presentation on how regulation change proposals were developed.

Larimer County consultant Matt Sura talks during a presentation Monday, July 26, 2021, during a Larimer County Board of Commissioners public hearing on proposed changes to the oil and gas regulations within the county land use code. (Jenny Sparks/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Sura said during his presentation that across the county 62% of oil wells were producing less than a barrel per day, with many producing zero per day.

“If we have 62% of wells that are uneconomic in Larimer County, you could state pretty safely this is an industry that is in decline (in the county),” he said.

After Sura presented the breakdown of how decisions were made when creating the regulation draft and any changes made after last week’s Planning Commission hearing, the public had an opportunity to speak.

Many who spoke, either in support or opposition to the regulation changes, wanted changes within the draft and restrictions that would be placed on oil and gas producers.

Some in opposition claimed the draft leaves openings for future litigation and difficulty to operations. There was also concern about the ability for companies to effectively operate in the area.

Chris Colclasure, senior counsel with Beatty & Wozniak, a firm that  represents companies with pipeline and natural gas operations, said that based on previously ruled Supreme Court cases and other rulings the current draft opens the county up for litigation. He also said that “Larimer County can have both a healthy economy and a healthy environment” by working with oil and gas groups to establish rules that work for both.

Some residents pointed out shortcomings in the regulations, saying they would decrease income to individuals and to the county as a whole.

Larry Danielson, a Loveland resident who has a history in oil work, said he has not seen many of the concerns around oil and gas in his time working.

“I was on hundreds of well sites … we drilled hundreds of wells and I never heard of one contamination,” he said.

Dave Cordle, a small business owner, said that while he appreciates the “camaraderie” and good faith of those who came out in support, the regulations could push out businesses and taxpayer money. He questioned if there was a problem with the current regulations, or just problems enforcing them.

Many of those in support pointed out shortcomings in the draft of restrictions, saying it could put people in danger by not having tougher restrictions. For most who were in favor of the regulation changes, the key concern was protecting not only the environment as a whole, but specifically the people of Larimer County.

People listen Monday, July 26, 2021, during a Larimer County Board of Commissioners public hearing on proposed changes to the oil and gas regulations within the county land use code. (Jenny Sparks/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, deputy director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradoans, said that there are a number of dangers that accompany oil and gas work that are completely unseen. He broke down changes they wished to see in the draft that included increased setbacks and air quality standards.

Andrew Klooster, Colorado field advocate with Earthworks, said that their organizations use special cameras to monitor emissions given off by oil and gas platforms that are invisible to the naked eye. He added that the size of the pad, which is discussed in the draft, does not always indicate the amount of emissions released.

Many Larimer County residents spoke about their concerns to the dangers this work could to do the area they call home.

Longtime resident Deb Bjork said community members in the county are “just canaries in a coal mine,” due to air quality.

“Just because it is happening in other jurisdictions does not mean it needs to happen here,” said resident Mary Bedosky.

With the meeting lasting until 10 p.m. Monday, the commissioners will return Thursday night to continue to discuss the issue.

“We really do want to hear all the voices,” said commissioner Kristin Stephens.

The commissioners thanked those gathered, including county staff, for their presence and participation Monday night.

Commissioner John Kefalas said that if the discussion continues past time on Thursday as well, the commissioners will return Aug. 2 to decide what to do about the proposed changes.