Larimer County imposes new oil and gas regulations

FORT COLLINS — Come mid-September, Larimer County will impose new rules affecting oil and gas operations in the county.

The rules are among a handful of new local regulations that counties across the state are permitted to write after passage of Senate Bill 181 in 2019.

The Larimer County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the new rules after extensive hearings and discussion.

In the end, the commissioners appeared to be most concerned with oil and gas setbacks from housing, schools, nursing homes and other potentially vulnerable residents. Those setbacks would include so-called “reverse setbacks,” in that housing developers would be unable to build within established limits around existing wells.

Testimony provided to the commissioners last week included both those in favor of additional restrictions and those opposed. 

Trisha Fanning, representing the Small Operators Society, said the election of new commissioners in 2020 caused the process to shift from “all voices being heard to one viewpoint driving the process.” She referred to state law that permits local governments to be more strict than the state but also requires governments to make sure restrictions are “necessary and reasonable,” with her contention that the new rules did not meet that standard.

Patricia Garcia Nelson said the rules are “not trying to ban this industry but to make it safer.”

Matt Sura, an oil and gas attorney hired to help the county write the new regulations, said the proposed rules will be among the most strict in the state so far. 

Commissioner Kristin Stephens wanted to make sure the rules create “a hard setback” of 2,000 feet from structures, especially those where people live and work. She also wanted to prohibit new wells in forested areas. The other commissioners concurred.

Setbacks from streams, creeks and rivers would be 300 feet, down from the originally proposed 500 feet. Sura said that oil and gas activity is prohibited within 100-year floodplains so the higher limit isn’t necessary.