BRIGHTON — Brighton City Council lifted the oil and gas permit moratorium during its April 1 meeting, about a month after instituting the measure.
Community Development Director Holly Prather said a number of “significant circumstances” have occurred since the moratorium was passed that allow city staff to justify lifting the temporary suspension. She said city and legal staff were able to meet with representatives of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“Representatives of these entities could acknowledge the existing COGCC regulations may not be sufficiently specific to adequately protect the city's domestic water supply and have indicated a willingness and commitment to work with the city and in the city's interest, prepare additional regulations in that regard,” she said, adding that COGCC and CDPHE are unable to tell the city how long it would take to create regulations to protect the city's domestic water supply.
According to Prather, city and legal staff have completed the initial redraft of the oil and gas regulations ordinance with the expectation that water protection regulations and best management practices will be discussed with representatives from COGCC and the oil and gas industry.
In the meantime, she said any oil and gas permit filed with the city will be subject to the newly enacted oil and gas regulations ordinance, currently under consideration by staff.
Although the item was an emergency ordinance and not a public hearing, Councilwoman Cynthia Martinez said she still wanted to hear from citizens who had made a point to attend the meeting. Council heard from three individuals — two of them business owners — asking council to rescind the moratorium.
Carson Ribble, Hudson resident and Chief Operating Officer at Brighton-based Quadco Inc., presented council with a petition signed by employees asking council to rescind the ban.
“We would like to make you realize that this affects jobs,” he said. “This affects jobs. This affects Brighton. This affects how we're perceived in the (Denver-Julesburg) Basin. Thank you for bringing this back to council for discussion.”
Brighton resident and business owner Gary Mikes said he was disheartened when he heard about the oil and gas suspension in the city.
“I'm a local business owner and to me, that sent a very bad message... I really appreciate you rescinding this, I think it will send the message out to prospective businesses that want to come to the area that we are open for business,” he said.
City spokeswoman Kristen Chernosky said the moratorium was passed to give new council members a chance to catch council up to speed but also because of the city's concern over safety measures for its shallow water wells.
“We wanted to make sure the regulations addressed that for the safety of our residents and our businesses,” she said.
Chernosky anticipates that the regulations will be finalized sooner than the four-month time period established in the moratorium. She said they already have a draft ordinance and although staff still have more work to do, they don't anticipate it taking any longer than the four months.
Concern over oil and gas companies avoiding Brighton in light of the moratorium was voiced during the March 18 council meeting. Will Whiteside, who owns Whiteside’s Boots with his father, implored council to rescind the moratorium and correct the misperception that Brighton is anti-oil and gas. He explained that they were contacted by one of their biggest oil and gas customers and were informed that, due to the city’s moratorium, the company would no longer be using Whiteside’s as a supplier. They were also encouraging their contractors to boycott Brighton businesses as well.
“In our particular case, this boycott will greatly impact Whiteside’s Boots and our 11 employees. We are primarily a vendor for safety footwear and clothing for the oil field. A large part of our inventory, as well as our future orders, are dedicated to the oil industry,” he said.
Chamber of Commerce Director Holly Hansen said she has been receiving calls from a significant number of local business owners who have experienced a withdrawal of economic support from oilfield and other industry companies in the Brighton community. She said these calls have been coming from businesses across the service sector, including businesses who service industry vehicles, hotels and even small businesses in downtown.
“We’re in a bit of a difficult position because it’s not really the chamber’s job to decide whether or not the ordinances that city council passes are good or needed or fair,” she said. “When we get concerned is when we see an action that has the unintended consequences that this has had.”
Over the past few weeks, Hansen said she has been keeping in touch with City Manager Manuel Esquibel and believes city council’s intentions to be sincere in trying to balance the need for regulations and the desire to not send a negative message to the oil and gas industry. She also said she has been meeting with members of the oil and gas industry, including Halliburton, and also understands where they’re coming from as a business.
“Halliburton expressed to me that it was very difficult for them to come to this decision, but that they had to do what they felt like they needed to do, and that even if the city does lift the (moratorium) ... they will already have established relationships elsewhere,” she said, adding that industry boycotts could very well have long-term impacts on the community.
Contact Reporter Crystal Nelson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.