BOULDER–The Boulder County Commissioners voted Thursday to adopt tougher restrictions on oil and gas development while resisting intense public pressure to ban hydraulic fracturing outright.
A week after an industry executive was chased from a hearing by angry activists, the three commissioners approved regulations “designed to achieve the maximum protection for air quality, water quality and the environment that is legally possible for counties under current state law,” said the commissioners in a statement issued after the meeting.
A coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups had pushed for a county-wide prohibition on fracking, but the commissioners argued that that they could not ban the fossil-fuel extraction process under state law.
“All three commissioners are opposed to fracking in Boulder County,” said the statement. “However, under Colorado law, counties have only the legal authority that has been delegated to them by the state legislature. This means Boulder County simply does not have the legal ability to ban fracking. The courts would almost certainly overturn the ban – and the county would then be obligated to process drilling applications under the 20-year-old oil and gas regulations, with none of the additional protections that the new regulations provide.”
While anti-frackers were disappointed, there was none of the pandemonium that characterized last week’s hearing, which saw an angry mob follow an executive from Encana Oil & Gas to her car after she testified in favor of fewer restrictions.
The executive, Wendy Wiedenback, was bombarded by screaming activists who shoved cameras in her face and called her and another executive “killers” while they were being escorted to the parking lot by security guards. The result was amped-up security at Thursday’s packed meeting. Foes of fracking wore blue tape over their mouths with messages like “Stop poisoning our kids,” but did not interrupt the commissioners’ discussion or vote.
The commissioners also indicated that they were likely to extend the current moratorium on drilling, enacted in February, while they bring their staff and consultants up to speed on the newly passed rules.
Boulder comes as the latest community to consider tighter regulations amid a national green lobby campaign to turn Colorado into a center of anti-fracking activism. In November, Longmont voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing, while local councils in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins have also discussed stiffer regulations.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is charged with regulating oil and gas development, is also considering stricter rules on hydraulic fracturing, including heightened groundwater testing and increased setbacks from residential areas.
At the same time, Gov. John Hickenlooper has defended the safety of the fracking process. In a speech Tuesday, he argued that the nation is on target to meet the emissions standards set in the never-adopted Kyoto treaty thanks to advances in natural-gas development.
“I’m willing to push the political reality as hard as I can, but I think it’s morally reckless to not embrace something like natural gas as a short-term transition fuel,” said Mr. Hickenlooper in remarks to the Colorado Climate Network, according to the Durango Herald.
The state has sued Longmont to overturn its ban on fracking in residential areas, which was passed by the city council in July before going before the voters.