Fracking moratorium in Boulder County extended to June, residents placated -- for now

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With the public speaking out overwhelmingly against hydraulic fracturing in Boulder County, the board of commissioners voted unanimously to temporarily extend the existing moratorium on processing drill permits until June 10, 2013. And while the decision didn't please everyone, many saw it as a step in the right direction. "Extend the moratorium," said Boulder's Kieuly Dang. "Then extend it again, and again and again."

Opening the hearing, Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle went through the results of a report labeled the "Oil and Gas Roadway Impact Study," which attempted to quantify the costs associated with road maintenance in the county.

"The study identifies the oil and gas impacts on the county road system," he said. "It does not include the impacts to the state highway system."

The report attempted to estimate the number of truck trips over the county roads each day of the multi-step process (leasing and exploration, pad construction, drilling, completion and production) in order to ascertain the necessary maintenance costs. But, Gerstle said, the most significant damage to roads doesn't necessarily come from the number of trips.

"The real damage to roads doesn't come from just the volume of traffic," he said. "It comes from the weight of the vehicles that are using the road."

Gerstle pointed to the report findings that showed a fully-loaded water truck has 6,500 to 11,000 times the impact of a passenger car, and a rig truck -- trucks that haul the drill rigs -- has 20,000 to 30,000 times the impact. "Those are pretty scary numbers," he said.

After listening to county staff present the study's results, commissioners Cindy Domenico, Deb Gardner and Elise Jones heard passionate testimony from 28 citizens regarding concerns such as health risks and noise pollution. They also questioned why the board wasn't pursuing either an extended moratorium or an outright ban of the controversial practice.

The report culminated with three potential options for the board to pursue: take no action and move forward without a fee; adopt a fee based on the study results; or direct the county staff to return in two to three months with either the maximum legally defensible fee under Colorado state law or explore the best method of cost-recovery procedure from the oil and gas industry.

Board members voted unanimously for the third option.

The board members all had their own reasons for voting to extend. Gardner addressed the comments made earlier by citizens that Boulder County should be focusing on alternative energy development.

"It really is at the heart of having to have this discussion about oil and gas," Gardner said. "If we had the renewable energy that we know that we could generate, we wouldn't be here, and so that is where this answer is really going to come."

Jones also touched on the renewable energy element, saying that it "certainly is a priority for all of us." She also acknowledged the calls from citizens for a full ban on fracking, a move the board is not able to make at this point.

"I just want to say that I think it's not because we don't agree with you on the enormous impacts that oil and gas development have on public health and environment and quality of life," she said. "It's more about the tools that we have in our tool box, and we want to use them boldly and creatively and innovatively."

Domenico went further, encouraging citizens to make their voices heard by going to the legislature to speak as decisive energy bills begin to come up.

"We started out this process when we were looking at this moratorium about a year ago -- the concept of a moratorium -- and we didn't know where we'd arrive in a year. And certainly, we weren't sure that we could justify a year-long moratorium," she said. "We've been through a lot, we've learned a lot, there is continuous information coming in.... This is a very complex process."

And with that, the three board members moved to extend the moratorium until June, giving the county staff approximately four months to return with the new rules and regulations for transportation cost-recovery.

Kim Sanchez, the Boulder County Planning Division Manager, said she felt encouraged by the board's decision to follow the staff's recommendation to extend the moratorium.

"It's been a lot of work to get to the point of having a set of regulations that we adopted back in December. It's going to take additional work to be ready to administer those regulations, and the process isn't going to be over," she said.

The few community members remaining when the board announced its decision shared Sanchez's tempered optimism.

Shane Davis, a Longmont resident who spoke earlier in the evening on behalf of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain chapter, said he agreed with the board's decision as long as it used the next four months "wisely.

"During that down time, they need to enact health impact studies and address all the concerns so they can make objective," he said. "I mean, if they have this moratorium, and they don't fact find, get good science, then what good is the moratorium?"

More from our Politics archive: "Fracking: Gas industry pours $747 million into lobbying and Congress."

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