It was a rare sight in Boulder: Council chambers were nearly empty as members unanimously passed an emergency ordinance to extend the city’s moratorium on oil and gas applications for an additional two years.
The room had emptied out earlier Tuesday evening after the council voted lock-step to implement a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. Fewer than a dozen attendees remained for the decision on the temporary moratorium, in place since 2013. It was first instituted by the council; voters overwhelmingly supported an extension the same year.
Mayor Suzanne Jones cited that voter support as motivation for the council to act rather than waiting for a ballot measure.
No companies have publicly expressed interest in drilling here — an application hasn’t been received in a decade. But city staff has recommended an extension to the moratorium, which was set to expire June 3, as a “cautionary step.”
“There are reserves/mineral interests,” said Scott Prestidge, spokesperson for industry group Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA).
Prestidge said he couldn’t speak to any potential operator plans for Boulder; “I don’t have that information.” But, in an emailed statement, COGA President and CEO Dan Haley noted the failure of similar measures in surrounding communities.
“In 2016, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously against bans and moratoria in cases involving Longmont and Fort Collins. Those bans, unfortunately, cost local taxpayers thousands of hard-earned tax dollars,” he wrote. “Boulder’s resources would be much better spent by working with stakeholders and mineral property owners in advance of any potential development, so that a thoughtful plan may be put in place ahead of any activity.”
Boulder-owned open space does overlap with the Wattenberg Gas Field now being heavily developed. Open space staff is currently working to determine where the city holds mineral rights, as it does under a set of ponds that is included in development plans by Crestone Peak Resources in eastern Boulder County.
Those rights could be subject to forced pooling, City Attorney Tom Carr said.
Boulder’s moratorium has not yet drawn a legal challenge, perhaps due to the lack of driller interest. Courts have struck down similar local measures that were viewed as attempts to stave off development rather than prepare for it.
Longmont’s ban was struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court, as was Fort Collins’. Lafayette recently extended its six-month timeout an additional 90 days. That measure will now expire in mid-August.
Boulder County’s moratorium lapsed last year. Two Denver-based drillers — Crestone and Extraction Oil & Gas — are in the process of attempting to develop significant portions of land in the eastern reaches of the county.
Carr said he had some concerns that even the two-year extension might not hold up in court.
“The Supreme Court said five years was too long, and I’m worried even two years might be too long,” he said. “Two years is about as long as I think is defensible.”
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