AURORA | Despite a moratorium on new drilling permits and highly-contested, new county rules on oil and gas production in Adams County this year, production there has already surpassed 2018 totals.
Oil and gas industry proponents say that current production levels are no indication of what’s to come after sea changes in state and local law.
Production data compiled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission shows 2019 oil production in Adams County reached almost 5.5 million barrels through September, the last available data. That’s in comparison to almost 3.5 million barrels produced in all of 2019.
Similarly, coal-bed and conventional gas production reached about 11.5 million cubic feet (MCF) through this September, outpacing the 2018 total of near 7.5 million MCF.
The rise in fossil fuels production comes after Adams County enacted a six-month, temporary ban on new drilling permits that ended with stricter rules for new wells in September. The county, which includes part of northern Aurora, was the first community in the state to take advantage of new authority granted by the state legislature allowing counties and municipalities to make their own oil and gas regulations.
“For all of the doom and gloom that the industry lobbyists have been claiming, it sure seems the industry is still doing fine,” said Board of County Commissioners President Steve O’Dorisio. “….The continuing production just supports that notion.”
In Adams County, new rules adopted in September included doubling the state-mandated buffer zone between wells and buildings from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.
Oil and gas industry advocates have decried statewide rules tightenings, and those in Adams County, as motivated by a desire to ban drilling.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has called the Adams County regulations “unreasonable” and “unnecessary overreach.”
“The oil and natural gas development cycle is rather long, from the permitting process and site construction to drilling and ultimately production,” said COGA President Dan Haley. “That can take months and years depending on the individual operator. Whatever production you see occurring today is a result of planning and permitting activities from at least one or two years ago.”
O’Dorisio said he wasn’t aware of the uptick in production this year, but he wasn’t surprised. He said the local regulations weren’t tailored to stop production altogether, and affirmed that the industry will continue to work in Adams County.
“The industry is still going to survive, it just has to survive within limits and more regulations,” he said.
Although the regulations were far-reaching and included limits on noise and emissions leaking from wells and infrastructure, the rules largely apply to new well permits.
O’Dorisio said oil and gas operators submitted a flurry of drilling permits before the tighter rules came down this year in a move to avoid the regulations, prompting the county to establish a six-month moratorium in March.
There are currently about 960 active wells in Adams County, according to recent COGCC data, including about 375 wells that have been shut-in. Only 37 of those active wells are in Aurora.
Still, O’Dorisio said he wasn’t sure whether the production increase was because of the permit surge or the market price for oil and gas, a main driver of production. Global oil and gas commodity prices are somewhat lower than this time last year, but still strong.
Scott Prestidge, a spokesperson for COGA, characterized commodity prices as “difficult this year compared to last.”