LARIMER ALLIANCE CRITIQUE OF APRIL 5 DRAFT O&G REGULATIONS

 

April 29, 2021

Dear Commissioners,

The Larimer Alliance appreciates the review and revision of the County’s oil and gas regulations currently underway. We also appreciate your action to expand and extend the policy-making process, to provide greater scope for public participation than initially planned.

The Larimer Alliance wishes to provide comments on the proposed revisions to the County’s oil and gas regulations in the Discussion Draft released April 5, 2021.

General comment

In general, we are disappointed by the proposed revisions in the Discussion Draft. The proposed revisions (including proposed specific standards) would provide only weak and minimal protections for public health, safety, and the environment from dangers and harms of oil and gas development. The proposed revisions are well below the recommendations and standards advocated consistently by the Larimer Alliance, LOGIC, and other public advocates over the past two years.

The previous policy-making process for establishing the County’s oil and gas regulations in 2019-2020 was deeply flawed, biased heavily to cater to oil and gas developers, and resulted in weak regulations that set a very low bar for protecting the County’s residents, economy, and environment.

The proposed revisions in the Discussion Draft seem aimed to maintain the low bar, with minimal protection for residents and neighborhoods, public health, safety, and the environment. We find this puzzling and wonder whether the staff responsible for drafting the proposed revisions have recognized the fundamental reform expressed in SB19-181, which clearly prioritizes protection of public health, safety, and the environment, as well as voters’ expressed desire in the last election for significant re-orientation in County policies.

Going forward in revising the County’s regulations, the aim should be to set high standards and provide strong protections for public health, safety, and the environment in Larimer County, which is possible under reforms enacted in SB19-181, and in line with County residents’ preferences as expressed in last November’s election.

Specific comments

  • Article 11 has been revised in some sections, but Article 11.1.1. The intent has not yet been modified, yet this initial statement conditions all subsequent subsections. Substantive issues with the existing Intent language have been raised to County’s attention many times, including comments from the Larimer Alliance, LOGIC, and several other stakeholders. The inclusion of potentially conflicting objectives in the Intent statement without subsequent clarification poses a legal risk for the County. The County should acknowledge these issues and revise Article 11.1.1. Intent

Article 11.1.3. The purpose has not been revised. The problem is the same as for Article 11.1.1. discussed in comment 1 above.

  • 2. Review Procedures and Required Permits should be revised to include a simple, clear statement that the County has authority to deny applications that do not protect the public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife resources. To avoid potential legal risk for the County, the regulations should expressly state that applicants have no guarantee of permit approval.
  • Article 2.9.4 Setbacks address what is generally referred to as reverse To improve clarity, it would be helpful to title Article 2.9.4 as Reverse Setbacks.

The reverse setback distances in Article 2.9.4 are grossly inadequate to provide reasonable protection of public health, safety, and environment. The proposed reverse setbacks appear to be arbitrary (50’, 200’, etc.), inconsistent with proposed setback distances in Article 11.3. for the same proximities, and weaker than Weld County’s “low bar” regulations.

Setback distances and reverse setback distances should be based on science and evidence related to protection of public health, safety, and environment. The County needs to provide relevant evidence to support the proposed reverse setback distances. Setback distances and reverse setback distances should not be arbitrary.

The need to protect public health and safety from O&G sites and facilities is the same regardless of whether O&G development or occupied buildings come first. Distances for reverse setbacks and setbacks should be consistent to ensure public health and safety from O&G sites and facilities.

  • Article 11.3.2. Location Restrictions allows O&G well sites and production facilities throughout the County, in many zones that do not usually allow for major industrial facilities and operations. This is illogical and inconsistent with the purpose of zoning.

Nearly all contemporary O&G development involves large-scale industrial activities, facilities, and equipment. Current O&G sites typically have dozens of wells, each extending thousands of feet, with development and production involving large volumes of supplies, products, emissions, and wastes, including flammable and toxic materials, all requiring storage and transportation. Modern O&G operations bear no similarity to the small pump-jacks of the last century and should be treated as major industrial facilities and operations.

The County should apply zoning principles to O&G development, especially to large-scale and multi-well sites, by requiring such development be limited to  IH – Heavy Industrial. Allowing extensive industrial-type O&G facilities and operations in zones Natural Resources, Forestry, Agriculture, Agricultural Commercial Enterprise, Open; Airport, Planned Development and Rural Planned Development makes a mockery of the County’s zoning “system.”

  • Setbacks in Article 11.3.2. Location Restrictions are inadequate to provide reasonable protection of public health, safety, and environment. Setback distances must be based on science and evidence related to protecting public health, safety, and environment.

A substantial body of scientific evidence supports 2500’ setback for all occupied buildings to protect public health and safety; the Larimer Alliance, LOGIC, and several other stakeholders have provided evidence to the County for this and can do so again. Setbacks for protecting public health, safety, and environment should be firm and, without exception, to ensure adequate protection over time.

Setbacks for public playgrounds, parks, and other public use areas should be consistent with setbacks for occupied buildings, as the need to protect users’ health and safety is the same.

Some setbacks in Article 11.3.2 do not appear to comply with state rules, such as setbacks to certain water resources for which state rules require a half-mile setback.

Article 11.3.2.C.5. allows locating O&GFs within a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designated 100-year floodplain if no other location is feasible. Locating O&GFs within a 100-year floodplain poses serious public health and environmental risk, especially at a time of flood emergency when action(s) to prevent harm from O&GFs to public health, safety, and environment are least likely to be feasible or successful. To protect public health, safety, and environment, O&GFs should NOT be allowed within a 100-year floodplain, with no exceptions.

The Larimer Alliance encourages Larimer County to set high standards to protect all its residents, businesses, finances, and the environment from the dangers and harms of oil and gas development. Larimer County should join with other local governments in Colorado to set a high bar for protecting public health, safety, and the environment.

Respectfully,

Doug Henderson

Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, and Environment

 

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