City council passes new oil and gas regulations

By Brendan Henry

The Berthoud City Council convened for its regular meeting Tuesday to discuss the city’s 2023 annual audit, new oil and gas regulations, an economic analysis of the rail yard, an easement agreement and a new appointment to the PORT Committee. Mayor pro tempore Sean Murphy and Trustee Tim Hardy were absent from the meeting.
The board began the meeting with public comment. Residents raised concerns and thanked the city for the renovation of Second Street. One resident felt the community was not heard at the planning commission meeting regarding the short-term rental policy currently being considered.

Trustee Brett Wing pulled the May 2024 financial information from the agenda, identifying a variance in the inspection section of the building department. City Administrator Chris Kirk explained that there is likely more construction underway than expected and budget adjustments may be made mid-year or late in the year to account for the variance. After explaining the variance, the board unanimously approved the agenda.

Hinkle & Company audited the city’s financial statements last year. The firm found no problems in the audit, and Jim Hinkle said they found no weaknesses in the internal control structure. Although there was an opportunity for public comment, all present waived it.

The board moved on to oil and gas regulations, since they were originally placed last on the agenda. Mike Foote, city attorney, led the presentation.

In the proposed design, the zoning restrictions include agricultural and industrial areas, while residential areas are completely off limits. Additionally, there is a 2,000-foot offset for new oil and gas sites, and the measurement starts at the property line.

For oil and gas facilities in pre-production, no homes may be built within 2,000 feet of the designated area assigned to the facility, including an additional year after pre-production. The setback is reduced to 500 feet after production begins, and after the facility is closed and abandoned, the setback is reduced to 250 feet.

The current design includes regulatory baselines for development standards with the flexibility to add more safeguards in the future. If an applicant wishes to apply for a waiver, the option is available as with any other development, and an application fee is charged.

Foote compared the project’s insurance requirements to Broomfield, which he said is among the strictest in the state for local jurisdictions. He added that the financial security for plugging and remediation in the project is more stringent than state regulations. One well would require $100,000 in financial security, and two would require double that, which Foote said should cover the cost of plugging.

The city will have the right to inspect any location and even impose fines of up to $15,000 per day.

Foote provided an overview of changes from the draft created in May 2024, including an adjustment to the state’s definition of cumulative impacts, 1,000 feet of informed consent with a deemed setback of 2,000 feet from both property and water (with the ability for the operator to prove there will be no contamination from its well).
After Foote’s presentation, the board allowed residents to speak on the subject. Residents expressed a wide range of concerns, some of whom had done research on their own time. These included health and development concerns, negative environmental impacts, declining property values, logistical issues with infrastructure for trucks to get in and out of construction sites, water contamination and potential oil spills.

One resident said, “We breathe air every day that is some of the most toxic in the country. We witness devastating impacts on our climate and health with the release of methane, benzene, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), to name a few, with every new fracking site.”

The resident detailed the numerous health problems that are commonly caused by living near fracking sites, such as respiratory problems, cancer and strokes, and also expressed concerns about “forever chemicals” leaching into the water. She also expressed concerns that “big oil companies” are taking too much control over the city.

Another resident said, “I wouldn’t want us to become like Frederick or other cities. One of the reasons I moved to Berthoud was to get away from the fracking that’s going on there.”

During the conference, Trustee Wing asked if banning oil development in the city was an option. Foote said no local jurisdiction had tried to ban it and that historically, local jurisdictions had implemented very restrictive regulations. Since no Colorado municipality had tried to ban oil and gas, Foote could not provide a definitive answer, but said it would likely lead to litigation.

Trustee May Albrecht believes that the policy Foote has put forth does a good job of finding a common ground between everyone’s concerns and that implementing the policy will avoid potential litigation while balancing public health and safety. Trustee Karl Ayers agreed with Trustee Albrecht’s considerations regarding litigation.

A motion to approve the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ordinance with an amendment providing that oil and gas facilities must be located at least 2,000 feet from wetlands, public supply lines and the centerline of water sources, including rivers, streams and reservoirs, was carried unanimously.

“Just for comparison, if we hadn’t gone through this, our old offsets would have been 100 feet, so that’s what we’d be left with,” Mayor Will Karspeck told the crowd.
After passing new oil and gas regulations, the board moved on to discuss the economic impact of a dedicated passenger rail stop, presented by Business Development Manager Walt Elish. There are plans to run a passenger train between Fort Collins and Pueblo, but there does not appear to be a rail stop planned for Berthoud. Elish explained that the economic impact report was done in reverse, where instead of reporting what would happen if a rail stop were implemented, the study covers the impact of what could happen if Berthoud were bypassed.

Existing studies of passenger rail show positive impacts on economic activity, such as higher property values, access to higher-paying jobs, attracting higher-income earners to the area and increased foot traffic for local businesses. If Berthoud is bypassed in the planning phase, the city will miss out on these opportunities as well.
The assessment also found that population growth would likely occur if a stop were added at Berthoud, resulting in higher-density housing. Without the stop, there would be no exponential population growth and, as a result, less economic growth.

Ken Matthews, Water Director, spoke with the Board about funding for the Cook easement as part of the Bacon Lake Interceptor Project (BLIP), a project that involves installing a new sewer line to divert flow from the congested First Street sewer and support future development along First Street. The BLIP requires the acquisition of easements for property along the east side of First Street and property north of Highway 56 and Mountain Avenue. A motion to approve the acquisition of the Cook easement and authorize the expenditure of funds to finalize the easement agreements was unanimously approved.

The last item on the agenda was the unanimous appointment of Kari Wiesen to the PORT Committee.