Boulder County extends moratorium on oil and gas drilling

Photo: Fracking operation in Weld County (AP Photo)
In this March 25, 2014 photo, a worker adjusts hoses during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well in Weld County, near Boulder County.

Oil and gas companies must wait three-and-a-half years longer to drill new wells in Boulder County.

In what could prompt an industry lawsuit, county commissioners voted Thursday morning to extend an existing moratorium on oil and gas development in unincorporated parts of the county into 2018.

Commissioners said they wanted a pause on new drilling until after several large studies into fracking’s safety are completed.

“It is clear from the widespread health, safety, and environmental concerns we’ve heard that we need to extend the moratorium until more research on the community impacts of hydraulic fracturing is completed,” said County Commissioner Cindy Domenico in a statement.

The decision was applauded by many locals and environmental groups, who have staged protests over the years urging an outright ban on drilling in the county.

“[Boulder County residents] are not supporting oil and gas development, they are overwhelmingly against it,” said Cathy Collentine with the Sierra Club. “And I think the Boulder County Commission’s decision heeded that call.”

Boulder County originally passed a moratorium back in 2012, while it tightened drilling regulations. By the end of this latest extension oil and gas companies will have been banned from drilling for a more than five years.

The moratorium, though, may not stand. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association successfully sued Fort Collins, after voters approved a five-year moratorium on drilling in the city. The judge found that lengthy moratoriums violate state law permitting drilling.

“COGA is evaluating all of its options now that the commissioners have unanimously decided to ignore recent judicial rulings that bans on fracking and energy development are illegal," said Doug Flanders, Director of Policy and External Affairs, Colorado Oil & Gas Association in a statement after the Boulder County vote. "By extending their ban to 2018, it would be in effect even longer than Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium that a district judge already has ruled to be illegal.”