We’re fortunate to live in a state whose geography and geology is diverse and varied, yielding dramatic landscapes that have long inspired exploration and adventure.But Colorado’s beautiful landscape also contains great amounts of natural resources, including crude oil and natural gas.
Because of these energy-rich resources, the state’s land rights and use have been hotly contested since its earliest days as a territory. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, almost 9 out of every 10 barrels of crude oil produced in Colorado come from Weld County.
One-third of Colorado’s natural gas also comes straight from Weld County, which borders Boulder County at East County Line Road. As its next door neighbors, Niwot and Gunbarrel are often caught in the crosshairs of oil and gas debates. In March 2018, Operator Crestone Peak Resources submitted its fourth preliminary draft of a drilling project that would span a 1.5 mile stretch of State Highway 52 and include up to 140 oil and gas wells. These wells would drain an area of 10 square miles of underground resources.
Since the submission, many Boulder County and area residents have rallied to oppose the project, and other fracking initiatives in the area. On June 28, Boulder County’s Board of County Commissioners enacted a temporary moratorium on an emergency basis that immediately halted all new oil and gas developments and seismic testing until March 2020. The Commissioners met once again on July 16 to reconsider the ban and take public testimony, but voted to keep it in effect while the county revamps its land use rules and regulations in accordance with SB181 passed recently by the Colorado legislature.
During the hearing, Vice-Chair Deb Garnder said, “It's imperative that we take the time needed to explore all of the options made available to us through the passage of SB 181 and that we look for ways to continue to make Boulder County's oil and gas regulations the strongest possible in the protection of our community's health and the environment.”
Amanda Janusz of Niwot urged the county commissioners to ban all oil and gas development in Boulder County to protect the health and wellness of the community. “We need a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure based on the corporate violation of our rights and the rights of our environment… A ban is the only thing reasonable and necessary to keep us healthy and safe.”
While many county residents applauded the moratorium extension, others left the hearing disappointed. Area farmers, whose day-to-day livelihoods are affected by both climate and market forces, are often able to safeguard against agricultural economic downturns by earning royalties from mineral rights on their land.
Longmont farmer Mark Merino has been farming in South Longmont for 27 years. He believes passage of the moratorium will destroy the land his family and friends farm. “These mineral rights and their royalties belong to Boulder County residents...Farming doesn’t pay. It’s expensive. It’s hard work. It’s risky. We are lucky if we can make $150 an acre. The one and only hope for us in preserving our farms is oil royalties from mineral rights.”
Local anti-fracking group The Lookout Alliance is hosting a community forum that will present evidence from investigations on the effects of oil and gas to our environment. The forum takes place at the Left Hand Grange on July 24 at 7 p.m. and will host Dr. Detlev Helmig, Fellow and Associate Research Professor with INSTAAR at CU Boulder.
The Lookout Alliance issued a statement following the July 16 decision, stating, "The Lookout Alliance supports a legally defensible and permanent end to oil and gas development in Boulder County, and ultimately supports a just transition away from fossil fuels in all of Colorado. While we move toward that goal, we will work to build public consensus and we will support the use of all available tools, including local moratoria."
For more information on Crestone Peak Resources’ drilling plan, including topographic maps and revised proposals, visit http://cogcc.state.co.us/library.html#/special_projects/crestone. For more information about the county moratorium and future process to update oil and gas regulations and the Land Use code, visit https://www.bouldercounty.org/property-and-land/land-use/planning/oil-gas-development/.
An earlier version of this article stated that "...almost 9 out of every 10 barrels of crude oil produced in the U.S. come from Weld County." That is incorrect. Nine out of every 10 barrels produced in Colorado comes from Weld County.