Category Archives: General Environmental Reference

TALKING POINTS ON CONSOLIDATED PUBLIC DRAFT O&G REGULATIONS

Talking Points for Larimer County oil & gas  regulations

Members and allies of the Larimer alliance have prepared the following list of critical concerns in the Consolidated Public Draft of Larimer County Oil and Gas Regulations. These can be used for reference in preparing written and oral comments to any of our County elected officials or public offices.

Air Quality:

  • Larimer County’s air quality is terrible, due largely to oil and gas industry emissions. The American Lung Association gives Ft Collins and Larimer County a grade F for air quality. In 2019, Fort Collins was ranked #24 worst in ozone pollution of over 200 cities in the US — and in 2020, Fort Collins ranked lower: #19 worst in the US. The NCAR FRAPPÉ study found conclusively that oil & gas industry emissions are the major driver of unhealthy air quality in the northern Front Range which includes Larimer County. Improving air quality depends on reducing emissions from oil and gas facilities.
  • Air quality monitoring in Larimer County is completely inadequate to accurately identify air pollution sources, types, and quantities. There is no reliable monitoring of emissions from oil & gas sites and facilities, in spite of substantial evidence that oil & gas sites and facilities are major sources of toxic and climate damaging emissions, with far greater emissions than what the industry reports.
  • Larimer County needs air quality monitoring that is capable of identifying and measuring emissions from oil & gas operations that impact local areas and regional air quality. Monitoring and reporting must be in real time to identify excessive and dangerous emissions, and to enable rapid response when such emissions occur.
  • Continuous monitoring and real-time reporting of air quality and emissions should be required at all oil & gas sites and facilities, paid for by operators, and conducted by a qualified independent expert reporting to the County. The County should investigate possible violations and complaints quickly and if a violation has occurred, take enforcement action(s) including a penalty sufficient to deter future violations.
  • If access to electricity is available, operators should be required to use electric motors (ie, not diesel engines). If electricity is not available, operators should be required to use only Tier 4 diesel engines which are relatively high efficiency and lower emissions. No exceptions.
  • Maintenance inspections on all equipment need to be required on a monthly basis with documentation provided to the county.
  • Operators should be required to take action to reduce emissions on Air Quality Action Alert Days (ie, not only asked to take voluntary action) and required to submit documentation regarding steps taken to the County for review.

Water Quality:

  • Oil & gas development — especially fracking — uses and destroys billions of gallons of water. Fracking typically uses 5 to 10 million gallons of water per well and turns it into toxic wastewater, often also with radioactive contaminants. The water used annually to develop new oil & gas wells in Colorado could supply over 75,000 households for a year — but after being used for fracking, this water is often too polluted to be reused and must be permanently disposed of, typically by injecting it underground, permanently removing it from being available for other uses and posing a threat to groundwater. This use and contamination of water puts drinking water, farming, and water ecosystems at risk in Colorado.
  • In 1999, the State designated over 86,000 acres in northern Larimer County to be exempt from the Clean Water Act (under Colorado Regulation 42) and has allowed wastewater from oil & gas production to be disposed of by underground injection (UIC) or use of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) units. Two companies — Wellington Operating and Prospect Energy — operate oil & gas wastewater disposal sites in northern Larimer County, with little to no oversight. In addition to underground injection disposal, hundreds of barrels of wastewater from oil & gas production are dumped into the Boxelder Creek alluvial every day.
  • No oil & gas development should be permitted within a 100-year floodplain, no exceptions.
  • Produced water, E&P waste, and other hazardous waste should not be used for dust suppression or irrigation, no exceptions.

Health Impacts:

  • Oil & gas development poses serious health risks. Fracking, disposal of toxic waste, and impacts to air quality are extremely detrimental to public health.
  • Published research on health impacts of oil & gas development shows overwhelming evidence that oil and gas activities are dangerous to public health, the environment, and the climate, with communities of color, Indigenous people, and impoverished communities bearing disproportionate harm. Conclusion by Physicians for Social Responsibility from nearly 2,000 medical, scientific and investigative reports: “There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends.”
  • Byproducts of oil & gas development include dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are known carcinogens. These are emitted into air, water, and soil, impacting people in their homes, schools, playgrounds, and outdoor recreation areas, as well as livestock, wildlife, rivers, and lakes. Developing fetuses and children suffer health impacts, including respiratory effects, endocrine disruption, and cardiac and neurodevelopmental problems. Health impacts also include infertility, miscarriages, and congenital anomalies; asthma, ADHD, and pediatric cancers such as leukemia.

Wildlife and Habitat:

  • Hundreds of lakes and streams exist North of Fort Collins in Larimer County that support wildlife, from the fish in Boxelder Creek to federally protected Bald and Golden Eagles, to Ferruginous Hawks and Burrowing Owls. Large quantities of toxic waste from oil and gas production has been disposed of in this area for decades, allowed under Regulation 42 designation, with unknown impact on wildlife.
  • Wellington Water Works, located northwest of Wellington, conducts high pressure underground injection of toxic waste, under a permit that allows seismic activity i.e. earthquakes which are common with high volume underground injection control facilities. This facility is located only twelve miles from the first dam at Horsetooth Reservoir.

Permanent Degradation of Soil and Vegetation:

  • Land use that includes oil and gas activity causes serious and permanent damage to the ecosystem due to the creation of roads linking oil and gas facilities, noise, lights, dust, spills, and heavy machinery.

Setback distances:

  • A large body of medical and scientific evidence supports a 2500’ distance between oil & gas sites and places where people live, work, and recreate, to provide protection of public health and safety.
  • The County’s current draft regulations will allow new oil & gas sites to be located up to 1000’ from occupied buildings and use areas such as playgrounds and parks. And worse, the draft regulations will allow new housing to be developed as close as 500’ to existing oil & gas facilities (“reverse setback”). These setback distances will not adequately protect people’s health and safety; there is no medical or scientific evidence to justify or support such close proximity, and substantial medical or scientific evidence against such close proximity.
  • Larimer County should adopt setbacks (and reverse setbacks) that truly protect public health and safety:
  • 2500’ setback (including reverse setback) for all occupied buildings, recreation areas including parks and public open space, and conservation areas, from all operational oil & gas sites and facilties (not yet properly plugged and abandoned), unless a variance is allowed to a 2000’ minimum setback, with no exceptions to the 2000’ minimum setback;
  • 2500’ setback (including reverse setback) for schools, playgrounds, and care facilities and residential areas designated for the elderly, from all operational oil & gas sites and facilties, with no exceptions;
  • 1000’ minimum setback from any properly plugged and abandoned well.

Land Use Zoning:

  • Fracking is an industrial activity and should only occur in industrial zones. The County’s current draft regulations will allow oil and gas development including fracking in most land use zones — and if this is adopted, will open most of the County to oil and gas development.
  • At least one oil and gas investor has announced prospective plans to develop hundreds of oil and gas wells in northern Larimer County, which zoning provisions in the current draft regulations would make possible.

SOME TALKING POINTS RELATED TO O&G LOCATION, SITING, AND SETBACKS

 

Some of our members and allied experts have come up with some potential talking points for addressing concerns about O&G location, siting, and setbacks. Your own experiences if you live near such facilities are also critical points of reference in advocating for strong regulation in Larimer County.  

On the use of zoning for control of siting: Can be a useful tool, and provide set expectations for both a property owner and a potential O&G site developer.

A landowner can apply for a change of zoning, and zoning designations tend to be easier to change than set land use regulations. As such, zoning is not as resilient a tool for those concerned about encroachment of O&G in their neighborhood.

Some proposed O&G sites in our region are clearly heavy industrial complexes. Some local jurisdictions have opted to limiting their location to areas zoned as industrial.

 

On Alternative Location Analysis: Considered in some discussions as one of the most “important and dangerous” tools in a local government’s kit. The idea is for an O&G developer to propose alternative sites with an evaluation of the relative benefits or hazards of any location analyzed for local consideration. This presents the possibility that one of a range of sites may be described as the “safest” and should be approved. But a local government is empowered by SB-181 to deny approval of any application if it does not meet its criteria for safe operation and the protection of public health and the environment.

Some jurisdictions may require a minimum number of alternate siting options, some have no limits. The important thing that should come into play is that whatever site is to be approved, it must meet the local authority’s regulatory standards, and those can be more stringent than State rules. Which ever standards are most protective should apply, whether the State’s or the County’s.

 

On Setbacks and Reciprocal Setbacks: Although current COGCC regulations call for a 2,000 foot setback from all occupied buildings, other analyses of the effects of O&G development suggest a distance of 2,500 feet is more appropriate. The critical impact of emissions and the nuisance factors of noise, light, and dust are mitigated to some extent by such distancing from active well projects. There are also clear arguments for maintaining that distance from parks and open space, critical drainages, and wildlife habitat.

Reciprocal setbacks, also known informally as reverse setbacks, have to do with the location of new residential or other development near existing oil and gas facilities. Each project goes through different stages during its service life, with varying degrees of risk at each level of development and extraction. During its active phase, the most prudent course would be to maintain the same 2,500 foot setback of construction from the working wellpad.

Concerns about the integrity of any such facility do not cease when the well is finished producing and is shut down. Once a well plugged and abandoned, continued monitoring for potential leaks of methane and other compounds is necessary. Some experts indicate that any new construction in the vicinity should be kept at a minimum of 1,000 feet from the site, and more ranging out to 2,500 feet would be even better. Accidents associated with abandoned wells, while rare, can have catastrophic consequences, and close monitoring to assure against this may require attention for an indefinite period of time.

Special thanks to our friends and allies at LOGIC for their review and recommendations!

WATER RESOURCE REFERENCES RELATED TO IMPACTS OF OIL & GAS DEVELOPMENT

 

Fracking Fluid Pond

(courtesy Downwinders at Risk)

The following links are a small sampling of news and research related to the water quality impacts of oil and gas development:

Delaware River Basin Commission ban on fracking near river:
CSU study on use of produced water on crops, possibly suppressing plant immune systems:
Environmental Defense Fund pieces, one from 2015, one from 2019, on issues related to recycling wastewater:
Consumer Reports:
Water Calculator: Use in drilling and effects of wastewater: