This story below comes from John McDonaugh, whom I asked if I could publish his comments on this issue, which was announced in a press release by Boulder County on May 4, 2023, which can be read at:
Boulder County Declares Victory on Highly Contested Application to Drill County-Owned Minerals
This is why the Larimer Alliance continues to encourage Larimer County to take a similar tough stand with the O&G industry. We all know we must transition away from fossil fuels — the sooner the better — yet this industry continues to attempt to new drill new wells — even attempting to force Boulder County into a forced pooling. So here is the back story on how Boulder Country succeeded in this particular case. –Rick Casey
Yes, Boulder’s success demonstrates the power and necessity of hope and commitment. However, their victory in this hard-fought battle required more than that: Boulder played smart. They played tough. They didn’t acquiesce to half-measures or settle for political green-washing or low-hanging fruit (battery lawn tool rebates, anyone?). They utilized a multi-prong approach that combined education, direct action, political pressure, creative regulatory drafting, savvy legal maneuvering, and “bottom-line” awareness with a relentless, unwavering focus on their ultimate objective: Prevent O&G development in Boulder County.
Take a closer look at the sequence. Extraction Energy initially (c. 2017) pressed for 32 O&G wells and ancillary facilities to be located on Boulder County land. Boulder firmly opposed the project and supported the enactment of SB 19-181 which gave local governments broad authority to regulate O&G development. Once SB 19-181 became law, Boulder County promptly undertook drafting and enactment of well-crafted, extremely powerful, local O&G regs. Once in place, those strong local O&G regs undercut Extraction’s legal position, and rendered the proposed in-County O&G development (and Extraction’s battle to approve it) infeasible and uneconomic.
Extraction Energy then attempted to develop Boulder County’s O&G resources via directional drilling from the Blue Paintbrush pad located just on the Weld County side of the Weld/Boulder County line. Extraction figured that since SB 19-181 only allowed local governments to regulate the surface impacts of O&G development (and Weld County was, as always, in favor of the development) they could avoid compliance with the Boulder County regs by moving the O&G surface facilities outside Bounder County’s jurisdiction. However, regs aside, Extraction still needed to acquire the subsurface mineral rights below Boulder County land. Once again, Boulder County and its residents held firm to their objective and overwhelmingly rejected Extraction’s mineral rights purchase offer.
But Extraction Energy wasn’t finished. They next went to the COGCC seeking a “Forced Pooling” order which would require Boulder County to allow Extraction to develop the minerals as part of Extraction’s broader reservoir development plan. Boulder County and its residents then fought Extraction’s Forced Pooling attempt on multiple fronts: politically (via proposed anti-FP legislation), administratively, legally, and in the “court of public opinion”. They ultimately prevailed (at least until another oil company effort comes along). However, Boulder County leaders and residents now know they can — through focused diligence, savvy strategies, and hard work —prevail against O&G industry overreach. Equally important, so do the oil companies…who will likely look elsewhere for “greener pastures” and “easier pickings” the next time around. Why play the Kansas City Chiefs when you can play the Chicago Bears?
Boulder County and its residents showed what it takes. Playing against oil companies and their political enablers is tough. It’s often unpleasant. It’s taxing on multiple personal and professional levels. The other side is smart, well-financed, well-connected, and extremely tenacious. They will press their objectives, irrespective of the broader public good, until they encounter firm and effective resistance. The knife goes in until it meets steel. That’s not “cynicism”, it’s reality.
If we environmental advocates truly do our jobs, some folks — including some folks in power and, sadly, even some so-called “environmentalists” — won’t like us very much. However, if we remain true to our course, play smart, build and leverage effective coalitions, and call out industry BS and political inaction when necessary, they will respect us and will fear what we may accomplish. And, to my mind, that’s far more important to our world, to our community, and to the most vulnerable among us.
If a community and its leaders settle for empty promises, election-year greenwashing, unrelated low-hanging fruit (e.g. a few more bike racks, EV chargers, lawn tool rebates), and other placebos that won’t move the climate change, ozone, and toxic emissions needle, they will get exactly what they deserve. The oil industry will see to that.
Boulder County and its residents showed us the way. Let’s heed and learn from their example.
Thanks for all you and LA have done and continue to do in our “neck of the woods” on this critical issue. Keep up the good fight!
— John McDonagh
John is another Old Retired Guy who lives in Fort Collins (and a former state government enforcement attorney, oil industry regulator, oil industry senior counsel, and Federal agency senior environmental counsel).