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Colorado county freezes new permits

Boulder commissioners issue moratorium on oil and gas seismic testing and developments until March 2020

A county in the US state of Colorado has issued an emergency moratorium on new oil and gas development and seismic testing permits until 27 March 2020.

The move by Boulder County is an effort to offer staff more time to develop fresh guidelines following a state ballot measure adopted in April that handed local governments authority to regulate future activity.

County commissioners said they had approved the temporary nine-month moratorium to offer staff enough time to pursue changes to existing rules after the state’s passage of Senate Bill 181.

That bill granted local governments control over regulating the siting of oil and gas development locations in an effort to minimise impacts on the health, safety and welfare of the public and the environment.

The measure was vigorously opposed by the oil and gas industry.

The moratorium comes as the state continues straddling the line between appeasing an environmentally active population pushing for more "green" legislation and the revenue-generating oil and gas sector.

The moratorium was put in place after Denver-based producer Crestone Peak Resources sought permits to drill at least 100 wells in the eastern portion of the county near the town of Erie, along with seismic testing, according to local news reports.

The private company did not immediately respond to Upstream's request for comment.

Data from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission show that 22 permits for drilling for which Crestone applied for in early November had been rejected, while another two were shown as withdrawn.

Another 62 permits submitted by the company are marked as being in process.

"It’s critical that we protect Boulder County residents to the full extent of the law," said county commissioner Matt Jones.

"This moratorium will give us the needed time to create the strongest rules we can after the change in state law that prioritises protection over profit."

On 16 July, the commission plans to hold a public hearing to accept comments on the moratorium, which came into effect on 28 June.

The county previously imposed stricter regulations on any new oil and gas developments in April 2017.

"It’s our duty and responsibility as county commissioners to do everything we can to fully safeguard the environment and people of Boulder County," said county commission chair Elise Jones.

"To that end, it’s critical that we impose an emergency moratorium today to ensure that our regulations are as strong as they can be under the new law and that any industry proposals to drill or frack here are reviewed under these updated protections," Jones added.

In March 2017, Crestone filed a comprehensive development plan with state regulators to drill in a 10 square-mile (26 square-kilometre) area in Boulder County.

The county’s board of commissioners filed a lawsuit against the company over whether it had a legal right to drill, since the listed drilling locations were on privately owned land protected by county-owned conservation easements.

In a recent survey by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, two counties and six cities self-reported moratoriums on new developments, including Boulder County.

At the end of 2018, the state narrowly rejected Proposition 112, which would have increased setback distances for oil and gas developments. The legislation was opposed by 57% of voters.

Boulder County produced almost 86,000 barrels per day of oil in 2018, according to data from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.

The state is home to several oil and gas basins, such as the Uinta and Piceance, Greater Green River, Paradox, and San Juan, although the largest basin is the Denver-Julesburg in the north-east part of the state.

Producers in the basin frequently target the prolific Niobrara formation.

Crestone Peak has said its operations lie in the DJ basin.

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