BRIGHTON — City Council unanimously voted to suspend applications related to oil and gas drilling for the next four months at its March 4 meeting.
The emergency ordinance — temporarily suspending acceptance of new applications through July 15 — was approved after council heard from representatives from the oil and gas industry, most of whom warned about the message a moratorium sends to businesses.
City officials emphasized that the moratorium is not a ban on drilling operations in the city, but rather allows council more time as they work to update oil and gas regulations in the city code. Community Development Director Holly Prather said its not staff’s intention to ban oil and gas drilling operations in the new rules, but that the moratorium would allow the new members of council and the city’s planning and zoning commission time to become more educated on the subject.
According to Prather, the moratorium also gives staff the time to draft and revise ordinances that address local concerns and assure consistency with state regulations. Prather also noted it would allow staff to hold meetings and gather input from Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and to give time for the planning commission and council to review and consider the new regulations.
“We are making progress, we’re moving forward, we’re trying to do the right thing but as we do this, we need to take a moment to make sure that we don’t approve anything while we don’t have any proper regulations in place — and that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said.
Representative of the oil and gas industry, as well as Brighton residents who work for oil and gas companies, thought the moratorium was unnecessary and believed it sent the wrong message to the oil and gas industry.
Jake Matter, assistant attorney with the Attorney General’s Office, encouraged council to vote down the moratorium, which he said was inappropriate. Matter pointed out that there are currently no permits pending with COGCC, that rules at the state level apply regardless if cities have the same rules, and that the city would always be able to demand a public hearing before COGCC’s nine-member board if a permit were to be filed with them.
Jim Travis, president of Eaton Metal Products Co., said that four cities in the state already have banned hydraulic fracturing and that a moratorium sends a very negative message to the oil and gas industry.
“It says that Colorado is not open for business, and when cities start piggy-backing on top of each other it only has a negative impact,” Travis said, adding that as a business owner that means uncertainty, which could very well mean layoffs.
Shawn Martine, communications director for Consumer Energy Alliance, also urged council to vote down the moratorium.
“The oil and gas development in Colorado, in Adams County and the City of Brighton does not represent or constitute an emergency, even in the absence of up-to-date regulations in the city code,” he said, adding that a moratorium to propagate additional rules from the city’s perspective “is duplicative and unnecessary.”
COGA representative Chris McGowne urged council to engage in open dialogue with the industry and work through the existing state permitting and local government designee process to address local concerns while revising regulations. He warned that a moratorium is a serious step and sends a message of distrust to the industry and an unwillingness to collaborate.
Councilmembers Rex Bell and Ken Kreutzer assured those in the audience that Brighton was not trying to signal an opposition to drilling operations. Kreutzer said he viewed the time outlined in the moratorium as a period to do his due diligence on the issue for his constituents.
“I just want to be able to answer to my neighbors, the people in my ward, to my mom and let them know that we’ve looked in to everything necessary,” he said.
Councilman J.W. Edwards said council has been assured by the oil and gas industry of the safety and protection of the environment, and although they haven’t had permits submitted to the city in several years, he wants constituents to understand that council is doing their best.
“I think that we have a unique situation here in that Brighton’s water resource come from shallow wells and I’m sure that’s part of what we want to really consider,” he said. “No other city that I’m aware of, or at least that I’ve been told, depends on shallow wells for their water resources.”
Although development staff initially recommended a six-month moratorium, Mayor Pro Tem Kirby Wallin made the motion to shorten the moratorium to four months, noting that it “will put tremendous pressure on our staff and it will put tremendous pressure on our planning commission and our new council people,” but that they will put in their best efforts to get the regulation revisions done. He also said the shortened time frame will require the state and industry officials to become engaged and cooperate with the city in dialogue that they want to have.
Councilwoman Cynthia Martinez was excused from the meeting and did not cast a vote.