After a half-hour hearing Wednesday afternoon, City Council adopted an ordinance placing a moratorium on applications for drilling within the city limits. The ordinance is aimed at Ultra Resources, a division of Houston-based Ultra Petroleum, which wants to drill on 18,000 acres it recently purchased on the city's east side, commonly called the Banning Lewis Ranch.
Council also agreed to create a council task force to study and propose drilling regulations within the six-month moratorium, which ends May 31, 2012.
Andrew Casper, an attorney with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, was the only person who spoke against the moratorium, urging the city to work within the state regulatory process, overseen by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to protect water supplies and other resources.
About a half-dozen residents voiced support for the hiatus, including Mary Talbott. "Six months will not make a huge difference in the oil and gas industry," Talbott said. "The fact that you take the time to develop a coherent set of rules that protect our ... environment and long-term prosperity is very important."
Other residents expressed concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and a heavy industrial activity that could discourage the area's prime economic driver — tourism.
The vote was 8-0 in favor of the moratorium, with Councilman Bernie Herpin absent
After the meeting, Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said the ordinance was necessary, even though Mayor Steve Bach on Monday declared a freeze on the city staff accepting or processing any filings for oil and gas drilling. Here's the memo:
She said the council needs time to build a set of drilling guidelines, because council members themselves lack expertise in that area. She said she doesn't know yet who will serve on the task force.
Asked why the councilors couldn't ask the staff to prepare a proposal, much like the El Paso County commissioners directed their staff to compile proposed regulations, Martin said the council doesn't control the staff ... the mayor does.
She also noted the council has no money allocated for hiring a consultant to assist in drafting regulations.
Consequently, expect to watch a bumpy ride in coming months as the council task force struggles to master a complex topic.
Check the Indy tomorrow at csindy.com for more on the oil and gas drilling situation in El Paso County. County commissioners are expected to hold a public hearing in December on their proposed regulations.