Broomfield City Council on Tuesday approved 2,000-foot setbacks for future oil and gas facilities — quadrupling the state’s 500-foot setback.
The ordinance, which takes effect this month, states no oil and gas operation containing a well can be closer than 2,000 feet from the nearest lot line for athletic fields, amphitheaters, auditoriums, child care and correctional facilities, dwelling units, event centers, hospitals, life care institutions, nursing homes and facilities, recreational facilities, schools or undeveloped residential lots.
Prior to the measure’s unanimous passage on Tuesday, Broomfield did not have setback requirements outside of the state’s 500-foot requirement.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Jean Lim quoted Kristy Richardson, a toxicologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who in December at a meeting in the Anthem Ranch neighborhood said there are substances coming off oil and gas developments that have no health guidelines.
“We have to realize we are unfortunately the test subjects for this, and these guidelines may change int he future,” Lim said. “I think the least we can do at this point is change the buffer to 2,000 feet … and remind ourselves also that this is subject to Council approval through use by special review.”
Mayor Patrick Quinn thanked everyone for their work and asked for a few seconds to pause and recognize the significance of the vote.
Council approved the ordinance on first reading Feb. 25. A public hearing and second reading was scheduled for March 31, but was postponed because of the COVID-19 emergency.
Before the ordinance, Broomfield allowed oil and gas development in all zoning districts by use of special review. Under the new code, oil and gas operations will be limited to districts with “appropriate and compatible” land uses. Those include general and heavy industrial, agricultural and general aviation districts. Companies would still need to go through a use by special review process for approval of their operations.
The new ordinance applies to future operators and does not impact Extraction Oil & Gas Inc.’s ongoing operation to drill 84 wells in areas throughout northern Broomfield.
American Petroleum Institute Colorado Executive Director Lynn Granger called Council’s decision to impose 2,000-foot setbacks “unprecedented, arbitrary, and intended solely to eliminate” future natural gas and oil development within the city and county.
“Council’s vote disregards data, scientific or otherwise, and fails to account for the proven history of the protective nature of existing statewide setbacks,” Granger said in a statement released Tuesday night after the vote.
Public health, safety and the environment remain the industry’s top priority, she stated, and officials continue to take proactive steps to work with communities across Colorado to ensure safe and responsible development.
“Local and state governments derive crucial funding for schools, first responders and more from natural gas and oil development, and our industry is eager to provide a foundation of our collective economic recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” Granger stated. “We invite Broomfield City Council to join in this collaborative approach, and urge them to reconsider their punitive decision this evening.”
In April, state lawmakers approved Senate Bill 181, which granted local governments more authority to regulate surface and nuisance impacts of oil and gas operations to better protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and to protect wildlife and environmental resources.
Three community workshops were held August through February to gather input from Broomfield residents on proposed changes to oil and gas regulations, with the October workshop specifically focusing on zoning and setback changes.
On Oct. 17, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released “Final Report: Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil & Gas Operations in Colorado,” in which modeling showed acute exposure to benzene, toluene and ethyltoluenes could be above health guideline levels as far as 2,000 feet from wells during the development phase (drilling, fracking and flowback), according to the city’s memo. The state health department report states the acute effects of exposure to those chemicals include blurred vision, diminished reflexes, decreased alertness and changes to white and red blood cell populations.
In September 2017, Broomfield adopted an Oil and Gas Chapter as an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. It was prepared by the 14-member Oil and Gas Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, which has since disbanded. The group’s legal subcommittee made recommendations on new oil and gas regulations, which was the basis for amendments to the city’s code that were adopted July 10, 2018.
Broomfield is not alone in adopting setbacks that go beyond the 500 feet mandated by the state.
On April 13, the Superior Board of Trustees approved amending oil and gas development regulations to require well sites be located at least 1,500 feet from the property line of any existing or platted residences, schools, future school facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, senior living or assisted living facilities, or state licensed day care centers.
On Sept. 3, Adams County also adopted rules that limits where oil and gas companies can drill, including requiring a 1,000-foot setback from schools and homes, according to the county.
City Council on Tuesday also approved first readingof a six-month extension of the moratorium on on processing or approving oil and gas applications.
A public hearing and second reading on the extension is scheduled for May 26. If approved, the moratorium’s new expiration date will be Dec. 4.
The moratorium was originally approved on May 28; it was extended on Dec. 3 to last until June 4. In passing the measure, Council said it would allow Broomfield time to develop and adopt revisions to oil and gas regulations.
Staff is still evaluating the state study on health impacts from oil and gas operations released in October to determine if additional regulations are needed, according to the city.
“Although the temporary moratorium has given Broomfield some time to draft needed amendments to its oil and gas and other land use regulations, because of the COVID-19 emergency, which has delayed the regular business of City Council and of the (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission), additional time is needed to complete the revisions to the new regulations and present them to City Council for adoption,” the city stated in a Council memo.