By Tripp Baltz
Aug. 11 — Colorado is dropping its legal challenge of the City of Longmont's oil and gas regulations following a recent deal struck to avoid a ballot clash over fracking in the November election.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted Aug. 7 to file a motion to dismiss its Longmont oil and gas regulations lawsuit without prejudice, while simultaneously directing its attorney to draft a statement saying the commission will never bring forth the claims asserted in the lawsuit. The commission has not yet filed the motion with the Colorado District Court.
Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit, the state's case against Longmont's voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is still pending. A judge in Boulder County ruled July 24 the ban is preempted by Colorado's oil and gas law. The state is a co-plaintiff in that case along with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (Colo. Oil and Gas Ass'n v. Longmont, Colo. Dist. Ct., No. 13-cv-63, 7/24/14).
“With the current uncertainty of the legal status of Longmont's fracking ban, the preservation of our oil and gas regulations is crucial to the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens,” Longmont Mayor Pro Tem Brian Bagley said in a statement.
Longmont has spent about $164,000 defending the lawsuit that the commission filed challenging oil and gas regulations approved by the city council in 2012, the city said. The regulations govern oil and gas permitting that, in some cases, restrict activity beyond state rules, including giving the city the right to ban drilling in some areas.
The commission said it decided to move to dismiss the lawsuit with the conditions in lieu of moving to dismiss it with prejudice, which in essence would end the lawsuit. It did so after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) announced the formation of a task force charged with creating recommendations to minimize land use conflicts over the location of oil and gas facilities near homes, schools businesses and recreational areas.
Colorado has battled with local governments over control of oil and gas activities within communities. Five municipalities in the past two years have approved bans, moratoriums or other restrictions on the use hydraulic fracturing in drilling.
As part of the deal that led to the formation of the task force, four citizens' initiatives proposed for the November ballot—two of them anti-drilling and two sponsored by the oil and gas industry—were withdrawn.
Hickenlooper also called on the commission to withdraw its lawsuit over the Longmont rules.
Additionally, Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, directed the commission Aug. 7 to begin collecting additional detail from operators when submitting applications to locate facilities and ascertaining setback distances.
Going forward, operators must verify and document compliance with a part of the setback rule that requires production facilities associated with a multiple-well site to be located “as far as possible” from building units when those facilities fall within a 1,000-foot range, the department said.
The state's existing setback rules require operators to implement certain mitigation measures when they drill within 1,000 feet of an occupied building, such as adhering to noise limits, eliminating pits, using green completions to minimize odors and developing a leak detection plan, the department said.
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