Statement by PLAN-Boulder County on CPC Amendments to Oil and Gas Policies. Review of draft oil and gas policy amendments for inclusion into the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.
As a leading Boulder County citizens’ organization working to ensure environmental sustainability and far-sighted, innovative, and sustainable land use that preserves the area’s unique character and desirability, and which reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact, PLAN-Boulder County (PBC) is deeply concerned about the potential impacts of oil and gas development, particularly hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), on people’s health and well being, the land, water, agriculture, infrastructure and ecosystems of our county.
Emissions, toxic chemical spills, negative affects on human and animal health, water and air contamination, decreasing property values and other deleterious impacts from this industry are well documented. In addition, a recent NOAA report indicating that well heads in Weld County are leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, at twice the level previously thought raises additional alarm regarding this industry’s contribution to climate destabilization which is increasing drought, extreme heat, and wildfires in our region. At present, there are no national standards or data on best practices to minimize methane leakage from wells using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies. Any proposals to allow Boulder County Open Space to be fracked are inappropriate on land purchased with tax payer funds to be preserved for public recreation, agriculture and the environment. Where mineral rights are not owned by the county under land purchased for open space, the county should utilize every legal means to preserve the integrity of the natural resources for which the land was purchased.
We appreciate the County Planning Commission and staff’s attention to these serious issues and encourage development of policies aimed to be as protective as possible with regards to current and any future oil and gas development in Boulder County. We would strongly prefer and encourage Boulder County to continue pursuing an outright County moratorium on future fracking until it can be proven safe. However, we are aware of potential legal considerations and appreciate insistence on “most effective performance technologies and practices” until the county achieves a permanent ban or in situations where the county may not feasibly enforce a ban on the currently dangerous practice of fracking.
We support the policy amendments and recommend some changes:
- Objective: Boulder County’s foremost responsibility is to protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment from potential adverse impacts that may be caused by or result from oil and gas exploration and development, and to minimize potential land use conflicts between oil and gas activities and current or planned land uses.
- Recommendation: Remove the following language: “In addition, as established by Colorado law, the county also recognizes the existence of mineral estate property rights within its unincorporated area and its charge to allow those owners to explore and develop these resources in a responsible manner…”.
- The BVCP should provide guiding principles reflecting the values of the community, which has expressed a strong preference for a fracking ban. We do not agree that the county is “charged” with allowing oil and gas development that could negatively impact the environment and public health, safety and welfare of other citizens.
- 4.04: Regarding minimizing/eliminating methane and other gaseous emissions from oil and gas development into the atmosphere.
- Recommendation: Change “reduce or eliminate methane emissions…” to “eliminate methane emissions…”.
- 4.07: The County will encourage and appropriately assist landowners in seeking expert advice for negotiating surface use agreements or in negotiating leasing arrangements for oil and gas exploration and development.
- Recommendation: In order to best protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment, we request that the County implement a policy of proactively providing property owners considering development of mineral rights with the most current information on potential dangers and risks from oil and gas development, especially hydraulic fracturing coupled with horizontal drilling.
- 4.08: Regarding the County’s commitment to work with stakeholders, regulators and interested parties
- 4.08 E: Consider addressing impacts of oil and gas development by acquiring and retiring mineral estates interests on a willing seller-willing buyer basis where appropriate.
- 4.09: …Requires that applicants for oil and gas exploration and development directly engage with local communities, residents and other stakeholders at each phase of a development plan, starting prior to exploration, in order to provide sufficient opportunity for comment on plans, operations and performance, listen to concerns, and respond appropriately and promptly.
- Recommendation: Also require the testing of all wells in the vicinity of a site to establish baseline water quality before drilling, along with similar air quality samples. (Otherwise, if/when the water supplies are polluted by drilling, the company can claim there is no evidence it caused the contamination. Note that the pollution is not just from fracking fluidsundefinedit can be from compounds naturally occurring in the formation, but which were not present in drinking water until they were liberated by the operation.)
- AG 2.01: The County shall discourage the placement of new utility infrastructure upon agricultural lands.
PLAN-Boulder County Board