A city moratorium on oil and gas development looks set to expire at the end of May while the City Council continues to weigh how to regulate the industry.
At a City Council meeting Monday, City Attorney Christopher Melcher said council could extend the moratorium, but that he doesn’t see any downside from letting the ban expire, since only one company, Ultra Resources, has applied for permits to drill inside the city limits and the 18,000 acres of Banning Lewis Ranch the company owns isn’t currently zoned for drilling.
To get the property rezoned or apply for a waiver, Melcher said, would be a lengthy process, so Ultra would likely be better off to wait for council to enact new rules and then apply for a city permit.
“We do not think there is any risk to the city if we allow the moratorium to expire and we work quickly and diligently to adopt new regulations,” Melcher said.
Ultra received state approval to drill at two sites in Banning Lewis and is already drilling at three sites in unincorporated El Paso County.
Councilman Val Snider led a city committee studying oil and gas for the past four months. Snider and the committee will present their work and take input on how the city should regulate oil and gas development at a public meeting 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the City Administration Building, 30 S. Nevada Ave. Then council will take up the issue June 26 and direct city staff to develop draft regulations.
Snider said the city cannot ban drilling altogether, nor can it interfere with state regulations on oil and gas. The committee, he said, is recommending that the city come up with new zoning rules, require site plans and public notification for drilling permits, develop setback requirements for high and low density areas, come up with a water quality monitoring program and impose fees to cover the city’s costs to issue permits.
Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said she feels that she needs a lot more information before voting on regulations.
“I don’t feel like I even know enough to say, ‘Yes, we want regulations on that,’ ” she said.
Jane Ard-Smith, head of the Pikes Peak group of the Sierra Club, said she’s concerned the committee’s recommendations are too narrow and leave out issues such as air quality and traffic.
“We’re raising a host of issues and only a handful of them have seen the light of air,” she said.