Fort Collins considers tighter control of oil and gas

FORT COLLINS – The Fort Collins City Council was presented Tuesday night with an array of measures it could take in response to the potential of increased oil and natural-gas development within city limits.

City councilors dug into the issue Tuesday night for the first time since a proposed drilling moratorium failed to gain the necessary votes in June.

Councilman Kelly Ohlson stressed the importance of properly regulating an industry he believed could damage Fort Collins’ “brand” if left unchecked.

“This is an economic issue,” he said. “The brand is the city of Fort Collins.”

Fort Collins has only eight producing wells, according to the city, though oil and gas operators have expressed interest in hydraulically fracturing more wells in the city. Fracturing, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into shale to release trapped oil and gas, has generated controversy as operations creep closer to residential areas along the Front Range.

Staffers outlined a variety of ways the city could gain control over oil and gas development without upsetting the state of Colorado’s overarching authority.

“You’ve put a lot of things on the table,” Councilman Ben Manvel told city staffers. “Many of them sound like they could help.”

The measures presented to the council included several that were regulatory in nature. They included:

> Amending the city’s land-use code to require landscaping of wells.

> Requiring operators to apply for a city permit in addition to a state permit. The city could revoke the permit if it finds violations of state or local rules.

> Adopting a set of more restrictive rules that operators could voluntarily agree to follow in exchange for a faster permitting process.

> Barring home developers from building within 150 feet of wells and construction of high-density developments within 350 feet of wells.

Non-regulatory options are also available to the city, according to city staff:

> A liaison could act “aggressively” on behalf of the city to advocate its interest in oil and gas matters to the state as well as operators.

> The city could petition the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to protect Fort Collins parks and natural areas as “Designated Outside Activity Areas.” That means the state could extend a 350-foot setback of oil and gas development from a designated playground, recreation area, outdoor theater or gathering place.

> The city could reach an agreement with the state to give the city authority to inspect wells.

“Having inspection authority is important,” a city document reads. “Without it, city staff could only inspect for fire and building code violations and would not be granted unfettered access to well sites.”

> The city could enter into contracts with operators, an approach the city says is favored by the industry.

A final reading of any ordinance that might be crafted is set for Dec. 4.

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