By Nancy Sharpe
Arapahoe County Commissioner
A little more than two years ago, Arapahoe County Colorado began to see a fast uptick in oil and natural gas production. The new horizontal drilling technique combined with the process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, opened up sections of the Niobrara Formation located in Arapahoe County. These innovative drilling techniques have made previously unprofitable areas such as the Arapahoe County section of the Niobrara Formation accessible to large producers such as Anadarko, Conoco Phillips and Noble Energy as well as many smaller sized operators.
While oil and gas production has been taking place in Arapahoe County for more than 40 years, the new energy boom created a wave of renewed interest in the county. Arapahoe County government began to hear a rise in citizen concerns along with new pressures placed on communities and infrastructure. The national attention on fracking created a heightened awareness within the community and among my colleagues on the Board of Arapahoe County Commissioners.
In response, we began a process of looking into what state regulations were already on the books as well as what we could be doing to best protect our county. Our first attempt at enacting regulations was voted down in favor of taking an in-depth look at the industry with an eye toward developing a set of regulations unique to our particular needs as a county. We set forth on a process that was guided by four basic points:
- That we would not duplicate regulations already in place by the state
- We would strengthen the counties relationship with the current Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Designee
- That we would focus on our local needs
- That we would establish a process for developing strong relationships between the county and operators
With these points, we began a year and a half long process of studying the issues, separating fact from fiction and meeting with key stakeholders. Our staff and County Commissioners met every 2 weeks to discuss the ongoing process, met with experts on drilling techniques such as representatives from the Colorado School of Mines, held open house meetings with industry and community members and toured the drill sites and visited impacted areas.
Our education and research led to the adoption of a set of regulations that promotes the responsible production of natural gas while protecting Arapahoe County’s roads and infrastructure, citizen concerns and our environment, land and water. I believe that Arapahoe County’s oil and gas regulations are among the best anywhere in the country in striking this important balance.
Specifically, we created a process through which oil and gas operators have the ability to streamline their applications by signing on to a Memorandum of Understanding. This MOU requires that operators adhere to the rules and regulations set forth by the county. Proposed wells that fall outside of the scope of the MOU are able to undergo the permitting process through the Board of County Commissioners.
Another highlight of the Arapahoe County regulations is the hiring of a specially trained county staff member who has the same training as a state well safety inspector. With this training, our team member has the ability to recognize emerging issues and spot safety concerns for us at the county level. If an issue arises, we can quickly bring in state inspectors and work with the operator in mitigating the issue.
We also put in place sensible regulations to protect our infrastructure and communities. Operators are encouraged and in some areas required under the rules to temper their use of county roads during high traffic times. In many cases they are given the ability to construct special roads that head directly to well sites as opposed to using county roads. We also approved the construction of the Front Range pipeline through Arapahoe County which will further alleviate wear and tear on our infrastructure in transporting natural gas.
County residents have been granted access to a grievance process that ensures their voice will be heard in the case that an issue does arise. The Arapahoe Board of County Commissioners has been committed throughout this process to establishing strong safeguards for our residents.
In conclusion, I believe that the process we instituted and the eventual rules and regulations that have been developed have created a positive balance for oil and gas operators, local governments and our residents within Arapahoe County. It is our hope that other counties across the state and nation who may be grappling with similar issues can utilize the lessons we learned and the process to better develop rules in their own region that balance landowners, oil and gas operators and protect their environment.