January 19, 2021
Larimer County, Colorado
Dear Larimer County Board of County Commissioners:
The Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety & the Environment was formed in 2019 to support strong oil and gas regulations that protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife as mandated by SB19-181. We’re grateful to the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC), who work to bring about proactive and pragmatic oil and gas policy solutions across Colorado, and have supported our active engagement in rulemaking and advocacy. The Alliance and LOGIC have engaged constructively and offered expertise as a resource to Larimer County as the county embarked on a process to develop local oil and gas regulations.
That process ended in April 2020 with new oil and gas regulations inserted into Larimer County’s 20-year land use code. Prior to approval, the County Planning Commission mandated that a review of these regulations (and related land use code) be initiated no later than “120 days after state regulation was completed”. There was concern that the County regulations might fall below that of the state regulations. That has shown to be a prescient requirement.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) completed its Mission Change Rulemaking (Series 200-600 and 800, 900, 1200) on Nov. 24, 2020, which concluded the bulk of the COGCC revision of the State’s oil and gas regulations. If the clock starts on November 24, 2020 the County is required to start its review by March 24, 2021.
For this reason, we ask that the County instate a 6-month moratorium on the consideration of new oil and gas applications while the County regulations are being reviewed and revised. The revision of the County’s regulations and the review of the new COGCC and AQCC regulations will likely be time consuming for County staff. Without a moratorium, the County staff could have siting applications in process concurrent with regulation review and revision.
The Larimer Alliance urges the new BOCC to begin review of the County regulations as a first order of business in 2021. We believe this is imperative for several reasons:
- The current Larimer County regulations on location decisions for new oil and gas applications provides insufficient guidance for siting. Not only will it cost the County time and money, it could also be an exercise in futility because the COGCC will be applying the State’s new, much more protective regulations to permit approvals beginning January 15, 2021.
- The current County regulations do not sufficiently protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife (PHSWEW), in compliance with SB-181 and new State regulations. Numerous areas are not as protective as the new State regulations including setbacks, noise, odor, and light pollution, which leave the County’s population vulnerable to health impacts associated with oil and gas development (details follow in this letter).
- Our County is vulnerable to outside interests’ efforts to develop oil and gas without abiding by needed protections. Areas of vulnerability in the County regulations include: the exclusion of recompletions and confusing ambiguous language allowing for loopholes and legal vulnerability, such as the last minute inclusion of the term, “Greenfield” in the regulations.
- The need to review and revise County oil and gas regulations is in line with the County’s work on a Climate Action Plan, which is slated to include emissions from within the Larimer County Jurisdiction. 1 In addition, there is a pressing health imperative to improve air quality during the Covid pandemic as air pollution is increasing the risk of Covid death. 2
Following are specific areas of the current Larimer County oil and gas regulations that are weak and leave County residents, environment and wildlife vulnerable to detrimental health and other effects from increased air, water and land pollution. This list is not inclusive, but we are providing points of concern.
- There are no clear standards or methods of enforcement for any violations nor consequences for noncompliance, such as fees or suspension of operations in the County regulations. The current regulations rely on industry self-reporting of incidents; state inspectors inspect each site approximately every 18-24 months. (Note: Adams County has worked with COGCC to have their own oil and gas inspector on staff.)
- Insufficient setbacks: State regulations require 2000-foot setbacks between all new oil and gas facilities, homes, schools and other high occupancy buildings. The County regulations say “1,000 feet from building units, including high occupancy building units, or as required by COGCC.” Updating setback requirements would avoid confusion.
- Lack of protections for public-owned open spaces.
- Lack of protections for water resources.
- Weak parameters for “nuisance” odors, vibrations, noise, and lights. To compare, COGCC noise limits are based on residential zoning standards, whereas the County would allow industrial noise levels during construction of oil and gas facilities. Larimer County regulations also allow noise above the zoned area designations to be increased by 10 decibels, in 15-minute increments during daylight hours.
- Recompletion (redrilling and/or hydraulic fracturing) of existing wells are not included in the current County regulations, yet carry many of the same risks, health concerns and nuisance impacts as a new development. One area of concern is a vulnerable field north of Wellington, where the Larimer Alliance knows there is interest and intent to recomplete existing wells.
- Reciprocal (aka reverse) setbacks for any new development adjacent to existing oil and gas facilities are not included in the County regulations. “Buyer beware” is not a protection.
- State rules for Venting and Flaring, Spills and Releases are now much stronger and protective than the County’s regulations.
- The current County regulations do not require information demonstrating that the operator is capable of fulfilling their financial obligations, such as the types of requirements enacted by Boulder County (Special Review for Oil and Gas Operations 3) or those set forth in the proposed COGCC 700 Series rules (Financial Assurance and Oil and Gas Conservation and Environmental Response Fund 4) and the Oil and Gas Conservation Act. 5
We also request that you consider 24-hour, state-of-the-art air quality emissions monitoring. It is necessary to truly protect public health. Larimer County has been in the EPA nonattainment zone since 2008. We currently have a “serious” surface ozone rating, which will likely soon be increased to a “severe” rating. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, the oil and gas sector contributes 28% of NOx (Nitrogen Oxides) and also contributes to the “on road” sector of 32%. When mixed with sunlight NOx is a primary cause of surface ozone. The oil and gas sector’s NOx emissions increased from 41 tons per day to 66 tons per day, in Colorado nonattainment areas from 2011 to
2017. 6 The geography of our county makes the accumulated surface ozone back up against the Foothills and has shown to have health damage equivalent to every resident, every child, of smoking a pack of cigarettes each day. 7 We have some of the worst air quality in the United States — and we have wholly insufficient measurement. To act on science and to adequately protect public health, we need quality data.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns. We look forward to working with you and Larimer County staff to ensure protection of public health, safety, and environment related to oil & gas development in the county.
Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety & Environment
Tim Gosar, Coordinator
League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans
Andrew Forkes-Gudmondsun, Deputy Director
Citations within this document:
- MINUTES What the Larimer County Climate Action Plan will Include.
- Air Pollution Is Increasing The Risk of COVID-19 Death, According to New Studies
- The text of these regulations is still in the process of revision at the COGCC
- The text of these regulations is still in the process of revision at the COGCC
- CDPHE’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority DMNFR NOx Emissions: 2011-2017, CDPHE Presentation to Larimer County Oil and Gas Task Force, Aug. 15, 2019, page 16.
- Smog And Other Air Pollution Is Linked To Lung Damage, COPD : Shots – Health News