State to fight Longmont over drilling ‘ban’

Mesa County commissioners have picked a side in the growing dust-up surrounding municipal oil and gas rules recently adopted by the city of Longmont.

Commissioners are throwing their weight behind Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers, who are defending a lawsuit filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission challenging Longmont’s new stringent regulations.

In a draft letter to Hickenlooper, commissioners expressed concern with municipalities like Longmont creating its own rules that may overlap state regulations set by the COGCC, further muddling the market for operators considering Colorado for oil and gas exploration.

“It is our view that those (Longmont) regulations create a de facto ban on oil and gas production in large segments of their community. If left unchallenged, those regulations open the flood gates for other additional regulatory responses,” states the letter, which will be signed by all three commissioners.

Longmont’s measures limit surface oil and gas operations and facilities to non-residential zones, encourage companies to consolidate operations in fewer overall facilities and fast-track the city’s review process for companies meeting voluntary standards such as setbacks from homes and schools.

A letter asking Hickenlooper to have the COGCC withdraw the lawsuit against Longmont—signed by 21 county commissioners from 10 Colorado counties and by 60 mayors and city council members from across the state—was delivered to the governor in mid-September.

“The resulting chaos would create would create unclear expectations for local governments,” the draft letter from Mesa County commissioners continues. “... and would be discouraging to the kind of investment that is needed to make our communities stronger.”

The letter also characterizes Longmont’s new rules as “irresponsible and illegal regulations.”

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca warned Monday of the potential of community-by-community rulemaking.

“There is a great risk of having other counties —up to 64 counties—adopting their own regulations. But the state is pursuing a municipality here. And what do we have, 3,000 municipalities in the state?” Acquafresca said. “So the potential for this to get really out of hand is there.”

He added: “We need to make note that the governor is showing a lot of backbone here — that he is standing up to the wishes of a lot of the folks in his own political party.”

Commissioner Craig Meis said he hoped other county commissioners would get on board and sign their letter of support as well. They’re currently circulating their draft letter, hoping for more support, before submitting it officially to the governor’s office.

Meis said he thought the original letter sent to the governor in support of Longmont’s new rules would be “like waking a sleeping giant” in other energy-producing counties across the state.

Staff writer Dennis Webb contributed to this report.


COMMENTS

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The issue could be solved with better state regulations, such as more reasonable distances from residences and better information for residents about air and water impacts.

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