Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper responded Thursday to criticism from local elected officials in his state who are upset over his government taking the city of Longmont, CO, to court over its oil and natural gas drilling rules. Legal action was what Hickenlooper called a “last resort” in a letter he sent to various local officials considering similar local drilling rules.

In his two-page letter, Hickenlooper emphasized the opportunity for collaboration with the local jurisdiction, noting that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has worked out intergovernmental agreements with local jurisdictions and operators, alluding to recent agreements with two producers and the Front Range town of Erie, CO (see Shale Daily, Sept. 11).

Hickenlooper stressed that the state has the expertise and resources in the COGCC to “ensure that Colorado’s oil and gas resources are developed responsibly,” protecting public health, safety and welfare as the local governments are attempting to do with their own regulations. The governor advocated using an existing state, local and industry process involving local government designees (LGD) as advocated by a task force recently convened by the state executive director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Mike King.

“[Operator agreements] have added protections in collaboration with the local community that address mutual concerns regarding oil/gas development,” Hickenlooper said. “The agreements reached by Longmont and Erie through the LGD process provide examples of what we hope to see throughout the state.”

Hickenlooper cited the latest report from the Center for Energy Economics and Policy that characterized Colorado as having “some of the strictest, most robust statewide [oil/gas] rules” in the nation. In a review of state regulation in 31 states with shale oil and gas activity, the center found Hickenlooper’s state was among the group with the strictest regulations.

The governor emphasized that the state wants to work with local jurisdictions to “address local concerns while preserving the consistency of authority that benefits the entire state.”

Earlier this month, local government officials from around Colorado roundly criticized Hickenlooper for the state’s legal attempt to turn back Longmont’s ordinance establishing natural gas and oil drilling regulations within its boundaries (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24). The state maintains exclusive jurisdiction in this area under 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,” said the letter, which was signed by officials from 10 counties and six cities, including Aspen and Boulder City.

In August, Hickenlooper said the state hoped to avoid a lengthy court battle with Longmont officials over their newly enacted gas/oil drilling regulations that challenge the state’s authority to regulate energy operations (see Shale Daily, Aug. 17). Longmont’s city council on July 17 approved a ban on drilling operations in residential areas. It included a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), groundwater monitoring rules and stream setback regulations. Wildlife protections also are included.

The local officials in their letter asked Hickenlooper to withdraw the lawsuit.