A silhouette of an oil facility with a sunset or sunrise in the background.
Arapahoe County adopted new regulations for future oil and gas facilities in the county. / Stock photo.

At a special business meeting, community members spoke for almost three hours to the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners, voicing strong and divided opinions on proposed amendments to oil and gas facility regulations.

The county’s conversations about oil and gas facility regulations were triggered by a proposed oil and natural gas project called Lowry Ranch.

The proposed project, put forward by an oil and gas company called Civitas Resources, would be at a 33,440-acre site east of Aurora, including areas near the Aurora Reservoir.

The new regulations would apply to all future projects in the county.

“The regulations are for the entire county,” county spokesperson Anders Nelson said. “The discussions around the (proposed Civitas project are) kind of what initiated the talk though, because it was the first time we were really looking at something close to a reservoir or a piece of water.”

At the end of the Oct. 10 meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the amendments to the regulations in the county’s land development code.

“The passed amendments seek to provide additional health and safety requirements and bring other rules into compliance with neighboring jurisdictions,” a press release from the county said.

The new regulations include:

  • Building access roads to comply with current fire code and requiring alternative emergency access roads in some cases
  • Providing handwashing supplies for workers at oil and gas sites
  • Requiring additional application information, including a project narrative, photo simulations and documentation of floodplain, wetlands and riparian area boundaries
  • Ensuring the operation of oil and gas facilities in compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations

The most significant change to the county’s regulations is related to setbacks, or distances that oil and gas operations are required to be located from existing and planned water reservoirs.

The new regulations require oil and gas operations to be located one mile away from existing and planned reservoirs — unless downgradient conditions can be demonstrated.

Downgradient means the oil and gas facility is at a lower elevation than the reservoir, or there is intervening natural terrain or topography that prohibits the surface migration of liquid to the reservoir, a staff member said.

In the case that downgradient conditions can be demonstrated, an oil and gas facility may be permitted at a setback of 2,000 feet.

Asking for stricter regulations

Many public commenters at the meeting asked the commissioners to consider physical health, water pollution and air quality and to create stricter regulations for new oil and gas facilities or not allow any new fracking facilities at all.

Among concerns about environmental impacts and physical health, many commenters asked for the setback exception for facilities at downgradient conditions to be removed.

“Downgradient on the surface means nothing … we have no idea what’s going on underneath the surface,” one commenter said. “Allowing them to make exceptions to rules, allowing them to have any less than this mile setback, is going to be so dangerous for all of us.”

Some students spoke about protecting the environment for their futures.

“I think my generation of youth deserves to have clean water and fresh air so that we can grow stronger and brave and smart, and not sickly and weak,” an elementary school student said. “I think in the beginning, people had questions about the dangers of fracking. Now, fast-forward to today — we know the effects and they are devastating. Instead of trying to find a balance with oil and gas, maybe we should first put a focus on the community.”

Asking for softer regulations

Other commenters asked for the proposed regulations to be loosened. They said extra regulations add costs and they spoke about the value of producing energy within the United States.

“I’m also of the opinion that more regulations lead to more costs,” a commenter said. “I want to encourage our state our living area to be affordable for everybody, and I’m hoping that we don’t get more regulations to push people away.”

Some commenters speaking from the perspective of the oil and gas industry said they saw no scientific proof for requiring a one-mile setback from reservoirs.

“The problem here is that there is not a single piece of evidence in this regulatory updates record that a setback of 2,000 feet — much less a mile — is either reasonable or necessary as required by state law,” one commenter said.

Next steps

The commissioners thanked the many public commenters for their input.

“Both sides came up with some very good suggestions and things that we’ll ponder,” said District 5 Commissioner Bill Holen. “I just want to thank all of you for your public service and commitment to seeking a credible solution to this problem and allowing us to reduce our pollution, and yet sustain our economy in these very, very difficult times.”

The county commissioners could only consider the amendments that had already been presented to the county’s planning commission, Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully said at the beginning of the meeting.

Going forward, Warren-Gully said the county plans to consider concerns brought up by the community, especially those with respect to increasing setbacks and other provisions for air and water quality monitoring.

Commissioners directed staff to further examine setback requirements from occupied structures and neighborhood notifications in their next round of amendments.

These will be brought to the planning commission in November, according to a press release from the county.

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