COMMERCE CITY–Citing the media’s negative focus on fracking and public pressure, the Commerce City Council members unanimously voted Monday to approve the most restrictive local ordinance to regulate development of oil and gas in the state.
But, the ordinance – including an “Extraction Agreement” – may be viewed as too excessive or too lenient.
One of the “aye” votes was cast by Councilman Steven Douglas, whose wife Kristi is a member of Commerce City UniteNOW, an environmental group opposed to fracking. After the ordinance passed,Douglas left the dais to personally greet members of the group as they were leaving.
Beth Barta was disappointed that the ordinance, as passed, neither addresses a citizen’s right to appeal the issuance of a permit nor defines that process. Council members postponed discussion on those issued until their July 9 study session.
Barta and Kristi Douglas were among six members of Commerce City UniteNOW that sent a letter on March 8, blasting Mayor Sean Ford Sr., city council and staff for courting oil and gas industries instead of renewable energy companies, particularly solar panels.
The group complained of attending meetings and being “forced to sit at a table with the same entities that are here to assault us, disrespect us, and destroy the health, safety, and welfare of the community.”
They accused unnamed city staff and council members of rude comments about the group. “We have watched you clap when we did not show up one week to comment, heard you say that you won’t be bullied by us, heard you say that (we) can’t take criticism, heard you make fun of our fear and say we should be ashamed of ourselves and that our actions don’t make us look too good…”
Fracking is a process of shooting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand deep below the surface to fracture shale formations and tap oil and gas. It’s often combined with horizontal drilling. Environmentalists assert fracking taints ground water, pollutes the air and harmful to workers as well as communities.
Members of the industry believe it is a safe technology that furthers the country’s goal to become oil independent, creates long term jobs and pumps badly needed revenues into struggling economies. The Energy Information Administration estimated there’s enough gas in shale formations to meet the energy demand in United States for more than 110 years.
Commerce City Council members pushed through regulations, adding a local layer of bureaucracy on top of state drilling rules. They were undeterred by cautionary communications from Attorney General John Suthers’ office on behalf of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Andrew Casper, regulatory counsel for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Assistant Attorney General Jake Matter expressed concerns that the revision to the city’s Land Development Code would “give rise to operational conflicts with COGCC’s comprehensive regulatory regime.”
Casper said that COGA supports consensual agreements between a city and operators, but opposes the “Extraction Agreement” that attempts to “circumvent state law via a mandate to enter into an erroneous agreement in order to engage in the development of oil and gas resources.”
“Colorado already has some of the most comprehensive oil and gas regulations in the country and provides for meaningful local involvement,” declared Casper.
Other communities and counties had received similar warnings. Some, like Longmont, voted for a moratorium to have more time to draft regulations, and others, such as El Paso County, addressed permitting policies and impacts other than fracking.
Such regulations are being debated in states with shale formations across the country including Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and New York.