Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday the state hopes to avoid a lengthy court battle with the City of Longmont over newly enacted natural gas and oil drilling regulations, which challenge the state’s authority to regulate energy operations.
Longmont’s city council on July 17 approved by a 5-2 vote a ban on drilling operations in residential operations. Included in the rules is a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), groundwater monitoring rules and stream setback regulations. Wildlife protections also are included.
Three days after the city council affirmed the rules, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission voted to pursue a lawsuit to get a “clearer sense” of whether the state or local officials had authority over energy operations, according to Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director John King.
Longmont officials “want a blanket ‘no fracking'” policy,” Hickenlooper told delegates at the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s annual Rocky Mountain Energy Epicenter in Denver. “That doesn’t make sense. We’ve tested 6,000 water wells, 650 oil wells, and we can’t find frack fluid in the water.”
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, noted that he remains a “card carrying geologist.”
“We want to get to the point where we can convince Longmont there is sufficient flexibility in state rules in meeting the needs of local communities. We want to get to a place of common ground” where Longmont’s rules “reflect the framework in other counties. But this is one case where there has to be a limit.”
Allowing Longmont to keep its regulations in place would pressure other local and county governments to enact separate drilling rules, said the governor. “It would stir up a hornet’s nest.”
The lawsuit against Longmont is the first time Colorado has sued a local government over energy industry regulation, something that Hickenlooper said he had wanted to avoid. The lawsuit and the implications of state versus local authority are keeping him up at night, he told the audience.
Other local governments have enacted drilling regulations but “none have gone as far as Longmont,” the governor said.
Hickenlooper was part of a panel discussion with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Executive Chairman Jim Hackett and Jim Martin, the Region 8 administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The governor said Colorado in the past few years has been able to “create a model” for what the national energy policy could look like in balancing oil and natural gas production, along with renewable energy development, in a sustainable, efficient way that ensured environmental protection.
“I look at what the challenges are to that, and obviously, the relationship between all of the stakeholders is important,” he said. “The challenges about public concerns on fracking, local versus federal control…how to deal with emissions. All of these become even more important. We’ve been focusing a lot on meeting a lot of these issues…and at the same time, create a sufficient level of transparency…
“In Colorado’s state government, our goal is to be pro business, but to also hold ourselves to the highest standards environmentally. If we can demonstrate to the broader community that we can extract natural gas efficiently and effectively in a manner that’s safe, we will win over large portions of the population.”
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