Stock Markets
Daily Stock Markets News

Adams County has strict oil and gas rules, yet well count rises

When Keith Huck, an Adams County senior oil and gas inspector, walks onto a well pad he looks, listens and sniffs. There is a lot to keep his eyes, ears and nose busy as the county has become the fastest-growing oil producer in the state.

Since 2017, oil production has grown 15-fold as the county became Colorado’s second-biggest producer churning out 12.8 million barrels in 2023, with some companies still filing December numbers.

Adams County remains a distant second to Weld County, where the output is 10 times as large, but since 2021 Adams County production is up about 58% and Weld’s has dropped by about 6%, according to state data.

All this growth has come even as the county adopted local oil and gas regulations stiffer than the state’s and launched its own oil and gas inspections, which are done on a more frequent basis than those by the state.

“This just shows that regulations don’t kill the business,” said Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry. “There can be a balance between regulation and drilling.”

Local governments were given the power to adopt their own oil and gas regulations under Senate Bill 181, the 2019 law that focused state oil and gas regulation on protecting public health, safety and welfare as well as the environment and wildlife.

Adams County was the first local government to take advantage of those powers. “Adams County wasn’t Boulder County so we weren’t going to ban it and we weren’t Weld County so it wasn’t going to be ‘Drill, baby, drill,’” Henry said.

The county’s rules and inspections haven’t resolved all problems as there are still spills, leaking orphan wells and drilling pads that predate Senate Bill 181 close to homes.

“The regulations are a step in the right direction,” said Lyndsey Collins, a county resident who has been involved in grassroots groups challenging drilling. “Still, in the last 12 months 22 new wells were approved by the county.  … So while we have the strictest rules, I am not seeing a huge difference.”

New rules limit the time drilling permits are valid

Following Adams County’s lead, more than a dozen other municipalities and counties have enacted their own oil and gas regulations.

“Senate Bill 181 did what it was supposed to do, which was allow local governments to adopt more protective rules,” said Mike Foote, an environmental lawyer, former state senator and a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“Local governments and residents have more say, there have been fewer controversies over oil and gas development,” Foote said.

Adams County senior oil and gas inspector Keith Huck is pictured during a routine inspection of the Baseline oil and gas well pad . (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun) Andy Colwell for The Colorado Sun

The Adams County rules require operators to run community outreach programs to keep neighbors informed and to carry environmental liability insurance. They must also monitor air and noise, use quieter electric drills, low-emitting diesel engines and drilling muds that do not create fumes.

The rules cut the time a drilling permit is good to three years from five years. In the past if 10 wells were permitted, drilling just one would hold the site and permit forever. Now all wells must be drilled in the three-year window. Wells permitted but not drilled would need a new permit.

Adams County rules, like the state regulations, require a 2,000-foot setback from homes for new drilling pads, but while the state measures the distance from the drill pad to the home, the county measures from the closest point of activity to the home’s property line.

“We think a farmer should be as safe in his barn and in his home,” said Gregory Dean, the county oil and gas administrator. The difference between the state and county calculations could in some cases add 200 feet to 300 feet to the setbacks.

Some local governments have enacted even more protective rules than Adams County. For example, last November Arapahoe County adopted a 3,000-foot setback from homes for oil and gas drilling operations.

Regulations are only as good as their execution and Adams County has created “the most robust local oil and gas inspection program in the state,” Dean said.

On A February morning, Huck walked out onto the Chevron Corp.’s Baseline well pad, one of 22 in unincorporated Adams County. There are also three pads in Brighton, under city regulations.

The routine is to first make an AVO inspection — that’s audio to listen for escaping gas, visual for any spills or broken equipment and olfactory for fumes.

After the smell test and eyeballing the site, Huck uses an optical gas imaging camera (a $95,000 investment by the county) to look for leaks AVO can’t…

Read More: Adams County has strict oil and gas rules, yet well count rises

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Get more stuff like this
in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.