Erie’s Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended approval of a new set of guidelines for fracking operators in town, but not before catching heat from the oil and gas industry.
In the past year, Erie has taken public input at various meetings from scores of residents upset with the spike in drilling in Erie, and specifically with its impact on noise, air quality, pollution, potential chemical risks and various other quality-of-life and safety measures.
On Wednesday, as the Planning Commission reviewed the new proposed code — for which Erie paid a law firm more than $100,000 to draft, according to town records — none of those usual opponents was present.
Instead, the commission received letters from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and petrol giant Anadarko, both of which accused the town of drafting rules that supersede state law. Such action places Erie at risk of the kind of litigation that has embroiled Longmont, which voted to ban fracking in a move headed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
For example, Anadarko took great issue with Erie’s proposed ban on certain potential operators injecting wastewater from drilling sites underground.
That practice “is currently the only feasible option for disposal of produced water in the basin,” Anadarko wrote.
The town has identified three potential avenues by which future oil and gas sites could gain approval: “Type A” operators would have to stay at least 1,000 feet from existing or permitted occupied buildings, 750 feet from residential lots or parks and 500 feet from any body of water. They’d also have to build a closed-loop system and agree to relatively strict measures that include keeping noise levels under 60 decibels, roughly equal to the volume of a normal conversation.
Any operator that doesn’t immediately qualify under the various limitations of the Type A permitting process could pursue “Type B” permits.
The third option, a privately negotiated “operator agreement,” is now being taken by the oil and gas company Encana.
The proposal’s stance against underground water disposal “would eliminate ALL operators from the Type A option,” Anadarko wrote.
Wednesday’s letters also argued that Erie’s proposed requirements around the reporting of spills and other site accidents shouldn’t be required as part of a local permit because the state has already drawn up specific guidelines on that front.
The 60-decibel limit could be another sticking point for potential litigants, as the state has provided for limits of up to 70 and 80 decibels.
The proposed new code goes before the Board of Trustees on Tuesday. It may be passed then, given that the trustees were intimately involved in its drafting and implored the Planning Commission to OK it at a joint study session earlier this month.
Attorney Barbara Green, hired by Erie to help draft the proposal, insisted it should not conflict with state law and that it reflects many of the wishes of all involved parties.
“This didn’t come out of the sky without taking a look at what’s going on in the state,” Green said. “(We tried) as many different ways as possible to protect public health and quality of life in the community, without being unreasonably harsh on the industry.”
The three voices represented Wednesday — Anadarko, COGA and DeAndrea Arndt, director of the local pro-fracking group Erie Forward! — begged to differ.
“Colorado has regulations in place that far exceed even the EPA’s national regulations,” Arndt said, claiming to represent 300 other Erie residents, “and I urge you and the Board of Trustees to come to a quick and cost-effective resolution that encourages energy development in Erie.”
“Erie’s lack of transparency is disconcerting,” added attorney Joseph Evans, on behalf of COGA. “Stakeholders within the regulated community who would be directly and adversely affected by the resolution have been afforded zero opportunity to voice concerns about how the arbitrary amendments … could harm their property rights and oil and gas operations.”
Planning Commission Chairman Eric Bottenhorn praised the trustees for resisting citizen calls in January for a fracking moratorium and said the new proposal responsibly balances interests.
“The town has tried their best to walk the line,” Bottenhorn added. “Considering the exposure to enter litigation, this is a step in the right direction.”
This article was written by Alex Burness from Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.