Aurora City Council doesn’t have plans to enact local oil and gas regulations, yet


AURORA | The City of Aurora won’t take any immediate steps to implement its own, unique regulations on oil and gas development, as the city has recently approved a system of operator agreements.

Some council members and staff said during a briefing on recently-signed SB19-181 that the operator agreements, which allow the city to negotiate with oil and gas companies, achieves the same goal as the new state law: local control. Those agreements allow the city to impose more stringent measures for health and safety purposes — on a case-by-case basis.

Councilwoman Nicole Johnston, who spoke in favor of SB181 on numerous occasions during the legislative session, pointed out that the operator agreements don’t set anything in the city code in relation to oil and gas development. Each agreement is different. 

“This (new law) changes our system, and we’re proactive in every area in our city, so not talking (about oil and gas regulations) would be concerning,” she said. 

Staff members told city lawmakers that the provisions that land in individual operator agreements have the potential to become city rules, but that could be later on. However, if an oil and gas operator chooses not to undergo the agreement process, there isn’t much guidance in city code, said Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor.

Meanwhile, the new state law awaits state administration interpretation and implementation. Oil and gas applicants who agree to make deals with the city can do that. Otherwise, existing state law temporarily prevails. SB181 dictated local government didn’t have to establish its own set of rules regarding oil and gas development, only that it may.

Oil and gas applications approved through an operator agreement would not be subject to the current appeal process or call-up provisions of the zoning code, according to the ordinance city council members passed in April.

Council members received a presentation on the various aspects of SB181 and the major changes that come with the law at the group’s meeting.

Section 4 of the new state law gives local governments the ability to regulate to “minimize adverse impacts,” which the law says “means to the extent necessary and reasonable to protect public health, safety, and welfare and the environment by avoiding adverse impacts from oil and gas operations and minimizing and mitigating the extend and severity of those impacts that cannot be avoided.”

Elizabeth Paranhos, outside oil and gas counsel to the city, said that without a definition of “necessary” and “reasonable” in the legislation, municipalities will have to decide what that means, and that there’s a possibility that courts will intervene.

A city council member could bring forth their own regulations on oil and gas, officials said, which would have to be approved by the full council.