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Legal Action Winding Down in Colorado Local Control Fight

As state officials in Colorado withdrew their legal actions regarding local government efforts to regulate oil and natural gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a state district judge gave the industry a belated, if unneeded, legal victory on Thursday.

Colorado District Court Judge Gregory Lammons ruled against the City of Fort Collins' five-year ban on fracking (see Shale Daily, March 7, 2013), upholding a motion by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) for summary judgment, and denying a cross-motion by the city. COGA CEO Tisha Schuller noted that it was the second time in 30 days that a state district court had found that local fracking bans violate state law.

Schuller said Lammons went further than previous court rulings, saying "the five-year ban substantially impedes the state's significant interest in fostering efficient and equitable oil/gas production..." The judge said the five-year ban "forbids what state statute [Oil and Gas Conservation Act] authorizes."

Separately, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) held a special hearing on Thursday and agreed to dismiss its lawsuit against the City of Longmont (see Shale Daily, July 15), citing the announcement last Monday by Gov. John Hickenlooper that a statewide task force headed by local government and industry leaders will develop proposed legislative solutions (see Shale Daily, Aug. 5).

The COGCC also discussed existing setback requirements for operators, which have been the subject of debate. State Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King directed the commission to begin requiring additional details from operators when they submit applications to locate facilities and to ascertain setback distances.

COGCC early last year updated the state's setback rules, increasing to 500 feet the minimum distance between wells and occupied buildings and 1,000 feet between wells and high-occupancy buildings (see Shale Daily, Feb. 12, 2013).

Land-use conflicts and setback distances are expected to be some of the issues that Hickenlooper's task force will tackle. And in claiming "unequivocal victory for Coloradans" in the court decision by Lammons, Schuller pledged that the industry association would continue "to work together with communities across the state [regarding] creating regulations that meet their needs and respect the rule of law."

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