TALKING POINTS ON WHY THE PROPOSED FOCO O&G REGS ARE DEFICIENT

The following was developed by the Larimer Alliance Steering Committee in response to the draft O&G regs being considered by Fort Collins City Council.

The proposed regs on the city website can be found at: 

https://www.fcgov.com/cityclerk/codes.php

The Larimer Alliance has reviewed these in detail, which is provided in a separate document. What follows is a synopsis meant to assist the public in understanding why we believe the regulations are deficient in their current form, and why the public needs to weigh in with their comments about this as well: 

Point #1: Vast Expansion of Allowable O&G Operations and Facilities within City Limits:

The draft O&G regs specifically allows a wide range  O&G operations and facilities in industrial zones. This includes seismic exploration, drilling, fracking, production, processing facilities,  drilling waste management, and pipeline construction.

Point #2: O&G Pipelines Allowed in All Zoning Districts:  

The draft O&G regs specifically allow the construction and operation of O&G pipelines in any zoning district of the City – including single, multi, and high density residential neighborhoods.   

The regs provide only minimal neighborhood notice of planned pipeline projects and virtually no ability for residents to effectively contest the decision.  

Point #3: Pipeline Setbaks Inadequate to Protect Public Health & Safety: 

The draft O&G regs allow pipelines to be constructed with setbacks as little as 50 feet from homes and other occupied dwellings. There is no requirement that the pipelines be buried. Additionally: 

  • The setbacks are measured from the pipeline to the occupied dwelling’s wall — not to the homeowner’s property line.  
  • These setbacks for pipelines are much less than the current recommended standard of 2,000 feet. This is not acceptable, as pipelines can leak or rupture; and the impacts of toxic and combustible gas or oil leakage can have just as much adverse  impact as an O&G operation, which has a standard setback of 2,000 feet. 
  • The 2017 Firestone tragedy, where natural gas leaking from a severed Anadarko Petroleum pipeline led to the explosion of a nearby family residence killing two family members, vividly illustrates the risks inherent in inadequate pipeline setbacks. 
  • Pipelines, either buried or above ground, should have the same setback.

Point #4: Rush to Adoption Limits Public Awareness and Participation:  

The timetable for public input and discussion has been minimized to the point of near elimination.  Few members of the public are even aware of these critical regulations; and the City is attempting to rush through their adoption during the busy Holiday Season when residents’ attention is focused elsewhere:  

  • This rush to adopt seriously flawed regulations is unnecessary and inconsistent with open, participative government.  In a matter of this importance, the City should attempt to work in conjunction with its residents, not against them.  
  • Rushing adoption and limiting public participation also go against the spirit of SB 19–181, which emphasized local control over the Oil & Gas development and expressly prioritized the protection of public health, public safety and the environment. 

Point #5: The Regs Place Industry Interests Above Public Health, Public Safety, Community Livability and the Environment:  

The detailed wording of the draft O&G regulations reflects a consistent pro-industry perspective on multiple fronts.  Examples include:  limited opportunities for public notice and input in specific facility and pipeline siting and operational decision; the express allowance of pipelines in all zoned districts; the broad range of O&G operations and facilities to be allowed within industrial zones (many of which adjoin residential subdivisions and popular community gathering sites; and express provisions for altering zoning limitations to allow a wide range of these same O&G operations in other (non-industrial) zoned areas.   

  • Because the draft regs are so favorable to the O&G industry, the City’s adoption of them  without significant modification would be tantamount to allowing the industry to write its own playbook for expanding O&G development within Fort Collins.  
  • This goes entirely against the spirit of SB 19-181 – which sought to put an end to allowing the O&G industry to regulate itself, and sought to ensure that protection of public health, public safety, and the environment was accorded primary consideration in O&G development decisions.

All this goes directly against the spirit of SB-181, the new state law that changed the mission of the COGCC from fostering the industry to protecting the health and safety of people and the environment, AND empowering local governments to pass their own rules on how the O&G industry should be governed within their jurisdiction. As written, these proposed regulations diminish the ability of city government to regulate O&G operations, when they should be strengthening that ability. 

Very recently, in response to the strenuous objections raised by Larimer Alliance members and others, City staff have indicated that they will recommend changes to some, but not nearly all, of the regs’ most problematic provisions.  HOWEVER, we have yet to see any of these supposed changes in writing.  Moreover City Staff anticipates that any actual revised language won’t be made available until AFTER the City Council’s “First Reading” scheduled for Dec. 20, 2022. While we appreciate City Staff’s verbal commitment to address a small number of our concerns, no legitimate reason exists for rushing the regulation adoption forward through Council without giving the public a chance to review the actual regulatory language. 

Our Specific Recommendations:  

The Larimer Alliance believes that the entire draft regulation package evidences such a significant pro-industry slant and that the City’s adoption process, accomplished mainly behind closed doors thus far, has failed to seek and incorporate adequate public input.  Thus, our recommended course-of-action would be for the City to withdraw the current draft regulations and to initiate an open, inclusive pubic process that provides more than token consideration of public health, public safety, community livability, and the environment.  If this overall “re-think” is not achievable, the City should, at a minimum, make the following changes:  

  • Prohibit pipeline construction in all residential zones.
  • Revise the pipeline approval process to provide for full public notice, hearing, and Zoning Commission evaluation and approval – as opposed to the minimal Basic Development Review process provided in the draft regs. 
  • Limit the wide range of O&G operations the regs would allow in Industrial Zones – in particular, eliminate seismic operations, Exploration & Production waste management operations, and O&G storage tank facilities.  
  • Require continuous air emission monitoring for VOC and methane emissions at the facility fenceline; and leak detection for tanks and pipelines.  
  • Require disclosure of fracking/drilliing water supply sources and volumes; and disclosure of plans for drilling fluid and “produced water” treatment and disposal.
  • Require O&G operators to provide up-front financial assurance guarantees, such as bonding or reserved trust financial set-asides, to ensure that both operations and decommissioning activities are performed in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, and the environment.
  • Strengthen the regs’ project approval provisions to require the City to examine and address the cumulative impacts associated with any proposed O&G operation as part of the approval process. 
  • Allow additional time for more public comment, discussion and oversight of the passage of any new O&G regulations. 

Has the Fort Collins city council abandoned us?

Below is an email I sent out to the general listserv for Larimer Alliance volunteers on November 18, 2022, which enclosed an email that I had sent to all Fort Collins City Council members that day, expressing my concerns over the proposed oil & gas regulations for the city — which seem to have suddenly come out of nowhere — but are being pushed by the Mayor and Council for rapid adoption — but with which the Larimer Alliance has grave concerns. We hope we get this message out to the broader Fort Collins community before a public meeting of the Council on Dec 20, 2022, which should be the time that we show up and express our concerns (if not our outrage?) over this.

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Hello Larimer Alliance volunteer: 

We have a problem! Please see below an email I just sent to the Fort Collins Mayor and City Council. 

The Larimer Alliance needs to show up en masse at the December 20 council meeting to express our strong disapproval of new proposed oil and gas regulations — which have appeared out of nowhere, but would dramatically change the potential for oil and gas operations to take place — within city limits! 

If you want to express your opinion on the matter to the mayor and Council, which I strongly urge you to do, send your own written message to: cityleaders@fcgov.com

–Rick

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November 18, 2022

Dear Mayor and City Council members: 

I am writing to submit some comments I sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission Hearing that took place on Thursday, November 17, 2022. I wanted to attend in person, but the inclement weather conditions forced me to stay home. 

I would like to state my qualifications to address this issue. I have lived in Colorado since 1981, and in Fort Collins since 2018. I currently reside in Council District 3. I am a full time employee at HP Enterprise as an IT engineer, and have been teaching a course in environmental economics at Front Range Community College since 2009. I have been involved in environmental activism in the Front Range since 2012, and am currently the webmaster for the following websites concerned with environmental quality in Colorado, both locally and statewide:  

larimeralliance.org

larimerallianceblog.org

focosustainability.org

colivableclimate.org

ncalf.org

I would like to comment on the draft Oil & Gas Regulations that are under consideration by the Council. 

First, it is with surprise and dismay that I learned that these proposed regulations are trying to be rushed through for approval by the Council with so little public discussion or awareness. This suggests, unfortunately, there is some strategy behind this, for whatever reasons, and that whoever authored these regulations does not want them to be subjected to public discussion. So my first ask would be for the Council to please extend this rushed approval process, and let there be a full public discussion of these highly significant regulations, which could impact us for years. 

The next opportunity for public comment on this is at the council meeting on Tuesday, December 20,  the height of the winter holiday season. This is hardly an opportune date to encourage public attendance. I would urge the mayor and Council to schedule a second opportunity for public input soon after 2023 New Year’s holiday is over.  

It was truly shocking to see how many loopholes have been created in these regulations for the oil and gas industry. If I were to express this in commonly understood vernacular, these loopholes are “big enough to drive a Mack truck through.” What do I mean by that, exactly? 

Buried in these loopholes is the ability of O&G operations to get zoned into ANY part of the city! Examining the details of “allowed use” means that things like well drilling, O&G operations, seismic exploration, or the production and transport of O&G products can get approved — anywhere! at the discretion of the director of the program. I find this totally unacceptable, and would ask that a new set of regulations be developed without such sweeping loopholes. We cannot allow for the O&G industry to exploit such loopholes and think they can pursue O&G operations within the city. 

As the leaders of our city government, you would probably like to hear some positive suggestions of how to help the situation, and not just hear complaints. So here is a positive suggestion that can help with these regulations: please provide strong financial assurances for any regulations pertaining to possible O&G operations in the city. 

I would strongly prefer that NO O&G operators ever seek to develop any fossil fuel resources within the city limits, given our global warming situation. However, since that may be unrealistic, I would like to suggest the following: develop strong financial assurances rules that would anticipate and prevent small operators from coming in, chasing lower value reserves, and then walk away from their drilled wells, without properly providing the financial reserves to properly plug and abandon the well should it prove uneconomic. 

As you may be aware, this is a huge problem for the entire state right now, with a potential $8B (yes, BILLION) liability facing the state of Colorado, which is more than a fourth of the state’s entire budget in 2022 of about $36B. Therefore, establishing strong financial assurance rules would be a straightforward way to assure the public that the city council is sincere about protecting our local environmental quality from that kind of risk. That particular risk is an unsavory aspect of past behavior by the COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission), who should be blamed for creating this problem, which we strongly need to acknowledge and throw off as a relic of the past. 

In closing, it was a disappointment to see that there was no virtual attendance possible at this meeting by the Planning & Zoning commission. Perhaps that could change in the future, particularly during the hazardous winter driving season. 

Very Sincerely, — Rick

REPORT ON FORT COLLINS PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION HEARING ON DRAFT OIL & GAS REGULATIONS NOVEMBER 17, 2022

Folks:

Tim Gosar and I both made an appearance before the Fort Collins Planning & Zoning Commission meeting last night, when they ultimately voted to recommend adoption of the draft oil and gas regulations we have all been chewing on over the past week and a half. Michelle Haefele was the sole dissenting voice

That anyone takes on these chores as a voluntary citizen board member is amazing. The old aphorism about watching paint dry comes to mind. But I am aware that some of you have been in on these sessions when certain controversies have been brewing in the past. That said, recent changes Fort Collins is enacting on their Land Use review processes which may remove the P&Z from being as involved in some decision making. This is disturbing. 

I will note a few changes that were proposed by supporting staff to the draft regulations as we had originally seen them. Senior Environmental Planner Kirk Longstein and Staff Liaison Rebecca Everette presented the changes. These included:

  • Removing oil and gas pipelines as acceptable in residential and open space zoning. There was some discussion of how and where such lines would run, with some consideration given to running them along existing utility corridors. 
  • Removing approval of oil and gas pipelines and their siting from the Basic Development Review (BDR) process and place under the Planning & Zoning Commission’s more comprehensive review process. 
  • Discussion of pipeline issues did focus on the need to reduce surface transportation by trucks.
  • A 2,000 foot Natural Habitat Buffer Zone was suggested. 
  • Plugging and Abandonment of wells would be supervised under a BDR process.Monitoring requirements were suggested as additional requirements.
  • The need to establish inspection protocols, with provisions for the operator to pay for such protocols, was suggested. As part of a financial assurance process, the operator would be required to provide guarantees of two years of maintenance on a plugged/abandoned well, five years worth for any necessary repairs. This is in compliance with COGCC financial security requirements.
  • They clarified that any decision under the BDR process, including any waiver decision on the part of the Director of Building Services, are subject to same criteria as processes initiated before the full Planning and Zoning Commission. They are also subject to appeal in the same manner as well.

The staff presenters said all of these changes were in response to public feedback since the Oct. 25 work session with City Council. Given the degree of feedback, they had pushed for and succeeded in having the first reading of the new regulations before City Council pushed back until Dec. 20. Those of you with more experience before City Council may be able to advise me if I am understanding that the Council may not make a final vote on the draft O&G rules on that date. . . “first reading” implies they may make changes based on their own concerns, and any issues raised by their constituencies. . . us. 

The Commission, in passing the motion to recommend, did discuss the setback issue at some length, responding primarily to Michelle Haefele’s concern about the “corner of building” versus “property line” for the setbacks. The staff did clarify that the property line standard would apply to parks, schoolyards, open space and natural habitats. Commissioner Haefele was focused on needing more time, but was overridden primarily by Chair David Katz and member Jeff Schneider, who both subscribed to the notion that a vote not to recommend was essentially a vote for no regulation, eerily reminiscent of Commissioner Tom Donnely’s line of reasoning during Larimer County’s first round of rule making. Commissioner Haefele was clear she favored regulation, but the need for more time to craft corrections was clear. Chair Katz seemed to be making it clear the Council was driving the process. 

Tim Gosar added that staff present at this meeting indicated that the City Council appears to be pushing to pass these draft rules ASAP.

Kirk indicated he was aware of the potential for not only an additional special hearing later this month at the AQAB, but also before the Natural Resources Advisory Board. Both websites for those groups still only show their regularly scheduled meetings, but those of you have been tracking this more closely than me have your ways to reach out and find out when such a hearing may take place and how we can marshall community feedback to those sessions and the Dec. 20 City Council meeting. 

We have word the Air Quality Advisory Board will hold a special meeting to take up the draft regulations on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 6:00 PM. A precise location will be reported when we have it.

Petition: Tell the COGCC to DENY the Guanella CAP

WE WANT TO SHARE THIS PETITION FROM OUR FRIENDS AT COLORADO RISING!

Folks: 

We received the petition link below from our friends at Colorado Rising regarding the Guanella Comprehensive Area Plan (CAP) for 466 wells to be drilled just across the County Line in Weld County, just East of I-25. The industry can pretend all they want. . . these projects invariably are subject to leaks of methane, VOCs, and other problematic emissions that inevitably end up against the Front Range to the West of Fort Collins and Loveland. 

The Larimer Alliance is already on record with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) as opposing the Guanella CAP. Colorado Rising has shared a petition to the COGCC opposing approval of this project, which you can access at the following link:

https://secure.ngpvan.com/QgHrisV1q0-V73mupDG72w2

Get your opinion in to the COGCC, share this with your family and community, and communicate to your local elected representatives as well your concerns and opposition to this ungainly project brewing on our doorstep. 

Larimer Alliance Blog