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Enviros Weigh in Colorado State-City Energy Fight

In the midst of two lawsuits filed by Colorado officials against locally passed oil and natural gas drilling rules, Longmont, CO, gained some support Thursday when the Sierra Club and Earthworks' attorneys filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate an ordinance passed last year.

Sierra Club senior attorney Eric Huber told reporters that the lawsuits by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) against Longmont's ordinance to restrict drilling within the city is unprecedented. "If Longmont wants to prevent certain dirty and dangerous practices from energy companies from happening, then that should be its right."

The environmental groups speculated that the COGCC will try to block their intervention into the legal cases, and another group, Conservation Colorado, blasted the industry and the state for allegedly misleading the public about the risks and hazards of drilling using hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Although he's been criticized by some in Colorado, which hasmore than 50,000 active wells, Gov. John Hickenlooper has staunchly defended state rules and regulations for drilling, including fracking. He testified at a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last Tuesday that Colorado could serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

"Our goal in Colorado is to be accountable to the highest ethical and environmental standards with regulatory structure based on three principles -- our regulations are reasonable, scientifically based and protective of health and safety," Hickenlooper told the Senate panel. He said states have traditionally taken the lead in regulating the exploration and production (E&P) sector, although he drew short of telling the federal government to back off in terms of proposed national regulations.

In November, Longmont voters approved a fracking ban within its jurisdiction (Question 300) by a comfortable margin (see Shale Daily, Nov. 8, 2012). The COGCC lawsuit, backed by Hickenlooper, was filed in response. Question 300 bans the use of fracking by oil and gas drillers within the city limits, along with banning fracking waste storage in the city confines.

Last July Longmont passed a law relying on the then-state setback for drilling and it is now 500 feet after COGCC action earlier this month (see Shale Daily, Feb. 12). Longmont's law also allows for E&P companies to get permits faster if they agree to a minimum 750-foot setback. The city also restricts energy exploration in residential areas and requires a 300-foot setback between drilling wells and waterways, and it calls for companies notifying the city in advance of any hazardous materials transportation.

In response to the state's legal actions, local government officials from around Colorado have lashed out at Hickenlooper for trying to turn back Longmont's actions. The state contends that it maintains exclusive jurisdiction in this area under the COGCC.

"Local governments have both the right and responsibility to take action to protect the public health and well-being of our citizens as well as the environment," according to the letter, which was signed last fall by officials from 10 counties and six cities, including Aspen and Boulder City (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2012).

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