Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones on Thursday said more local control should be given to counties in dealing with oil and gas development, citing a number of differences between the two counties that would make uniform regulations difficult.
Still, the fact that Weld and Boulder county officials agreed on anything might have surprised those who were listening to the commissioners’ amiable conversation, which was broadcast Thursday morning on KGNU-FM 88.5’s “The Morning Magazine.”
As the thousands of oil and gas wells in Weld County’s prolific Niobrara shale continue to multiply, Boulder County commissioners in June extended their moratorium on drilling for another 18 months.
Jones said Boulder commissioners received about 1,100 comments on the issue, all but 12 of them pleading with commissioners to extend the moratorium.
In light of the fact that about 55 percent of Weld County’s assessed value comes from oil and gas, whereas less than one percent of Boulder County’s does, it makes sense, Jones said. While oil and gas is vital to Weld County’s economy, she said it threatens much of Boulder County’s, which is based in outdoor recreation and tourism.
Those differences epitomize how both counties view oil and gas development differently and why local control is best, the commissioners said. Toward the end of the conversation, the pair suggested they partner in lobbying for state legislation that does just that.
But Jones said the state still needs a “strong floor in place for protections that local governments can build on” — something she said hasn’t yet happened, especially when it comes to air emissions that blow across county lines.
Conway said emissions are an issue, but it’s not a new problem, nor is it fair to blame oil and gas for recent violations of air quality standards in Greeley and Boulder. Emissions in the area were declining until last year, Conway said, after the High Park and Hewlett Gulch fires. And he said Weld County and the industry have been proactive in reducing emissions. The oil and gas industry has worked to reduce flaring of natural gas and to construct pipelines and processing facilities to take diesel trucks off the road, while the county has a program that converts municipal fleets to engines that run on compressed natural gas.
“Just as I respect Boulder County’s authority to regulate their land use, I wish they would respect us,” Conway said.
Some of the debate extended into the future of energy, a topic that shaped some of Jones’ concerns about relying too heavily on natural gas as the “bridge” to renewable energy and why more stringent requirements for solar and wind energy should be the norm.
Conway said Weld County has one of the largest wind farms in the state, and Weld government has worked with other entities on smaller projects for solar power that will add up.
“I agree. Renewable energy is not a Republican or a Democratic idea,” he said.
Just as I respect Boulder County’s authority to regulate their land use, I with they would respect us.
— sean Conway, Weld County commissioner