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Colorado County, State AG Clash Over Local Drilling Moratorium

Sparks flew Friday between activist Boulder County and Colorado Attorney General (AG) Cynthia Coffman over the county's refusal to follow Coffman's directive to lift a moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling.

The county had until Friday to comply but gave no indication of lifting its temporary ban. A spokesperson in Coffman's office said any legal action would not come before this week.

"If we reach the stage where we are forced to go to court, that information will be made public," the AG spokesperson told NGI Friday, saying she didn't expect any action that day.

"[Coffman] has been clear on her time frame for Boulder to lift its illegal moratorium," said Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. "We are waiting to see what happens and find it disappointing that Boulder has refused to comply with her request."

In December, Boulder County's three-member elected commission extended a temporary moratorium to May 1, and late last month Coffman called the county on it, telling county leaders to rescind the ban by Friday or her office would "take appropriate legal action consistent with the recent opinions of the Colorado Supreme Court."

County officials argue that the state high court's ruling doesn't apply to what they are doing on a temporary basis.

Boulder County's attorney fired back that circumstances in the oil/gas industry and in state regulation of the industry have changed since the county enacted its original moratorium in 2012. Thus, the county has extended its moratorium to allow time to update protections for public health, safety and the environment in light of changing circumstances.

The Colorado Supreme Court's ruling striking down longer moratoriums in two cities is not applicable to Boulder's situation, which is much shorter term and will not harm mineral rights owners or oil/gas operators, Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman told Coffman in a Jan. 27 letter.

Coffman has told local news media that it is "patently unfair" for one county to ignore state law while other local governments have been complying. She accused Boulder of using the "temporary" designation on its bans as a way to get around state law taking precedent in overseeing oil/gas activities.

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