Pointing to a state Supreme Court ruling last May, Colorado Attorney General (AG) Cynthia Coffman on Tuesday sued Boulder County after warning the board of commissioners that it is acting illegally in extending into May a temporary oil and gas drilling ban.
The AG in the lawsuit alleges the county ban is in direct conflict with a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last spring, which struck down a drilling ban by Longmont and a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Fort Collins.
The high court affirmed that local government actions were preempted by state law and therefore were invalid and unenforceable.
"Regrettably, Boulder County's open defiance of state law has made legal action the final recourse available to the state," Coffman said. The lawsuit, filed in Boulder County District Court, seeks to compel the three-member Boulder County board to comply. Coffman in late January had given the county commissioners a Feb. 10 deadline.
"It is not the job of industry to enforce Colorado law," Coffman said. "That is the role of the attorney general on behalf of the people of Colorado."
In response, county officials repeated their long-held assertions that the moratorium is "a materially shorter duration and is consistent with Colorado law."
According to the Boulder County Commission, updated draft oil and gas regulations have been underway by staff since last May. A public hearing on the regulations is set for March 23.
However, Coffman said the commission has had "more than a reasonable time,” estimated at five years, to complete the regulations and is operating "in clear violation of Colorado law."
Following the high court ruling regarding Longmont and Fort Collins, “other local governments acted to lift similar bans, except for Boulder County," the AG said.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Dan Haley said the AG's lawsuit is "not about drilling or fracking or pipelines, it's about the law, and the law is clear." He reiterated that long-term moratoriums are illegal, and Boulder's temporary ban has been in place for about five years. Boulder officials "should not be surprised that the AG cares about the rule of law in Colorado."
In December, the Boulder County commission extended its temporary drilling moratorium to May 1, and county officials have argued that the state high court's ruling doesn't apply. Boulder County's attorney has argued that circumstances have changed in the industry and via state regulation since the county enacted its original moratorium in 2012.
The county said it extended its moratorium for more time to update protections for public health, safety and the environment in light of changing circumstances.