Colorado Attorney General sues Boulder County over oil and gas moratorium

Posted at 3:39 PM, Feb 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-15 00:38:33-05

BOULDER, Colo. – The Colorado Attorney General’s Office sued Boulder County and its board of commissioners Tuesday after weeks of threatening to do so if the county did not repeal a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in unincorporated parts of the county.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and the state of Colorado are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which Coffman had threatened since last month if the county didn’t repeal its moratorium by Feb. 10.

Boulder County put the moratorium in place in 2012 and has extended it eight times, most recently in December, when county commissioners voted to extend it to May 1.

But the suit filed Tuesday points to a 2015 Colorado Supreme Court case that went against Fort Collins’ moratorium on fracking and a Longmont moratorium, and said that local governments cannot regulate the oil and gas industry.

The 2015 case’s ruling said that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act gives the state sole power to regulate oil and gas development and operations within the state.

In both rulings, the court said that even temporary moratoriums, which Boulder has argued its is, “deleteriously affects what is intended to be a state-wide program of regulation.”

In Tuesday’s filing, Coffman and the state ask for the court to declare that Boulder County’s moratorium is pre-empted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act, and also for it to put in place a permanent injunction that would keep the county and board from enforcing the moratorium. Coffman and the state also ask for court costs and other relief justifiable by the court.

Boulder County and state officials responded swiftly Tuesday afternoon.

“The Colorado Attorney General sent a special valentine to the oil and gas industry today against Boulder County for our working to safeguard our community from the industrial impacts of oil and gas development,” a news release from the county said.

But it maintains, as it did when Coffman first threatened to sue, that its moratorium is “of a materially shorter duration and is consistent with Colorado law.”

The county said its board of commissioners will meet as planned on March 14 and March 23 to review the county’s new oil and gas regulations for unincorporated parts of the county.

"It's our right and our responsibility to protect our residents and to protect our world-class environment from the impact of oil and gas development, which is very industrial..." said Commissioner Elise Jones.

Five Democrats who represent areas of Boulder County in the state House lambasted Coffman's suit, saying she was suing on the behalf of a private industry.

“The Attorney General has decided to wield the power of her office for the benefit of private companies at the expense of local communities,” said Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder.

But Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Dan Haley told Denver7 that Boulder's five-year old moratorium is illegal.

"We support the Attorney General's decision," he said. "For us, it's very clear.  It's about the law.  It's not about fracking, It's not about drilling.  It's not about pipelines.  It's about whether, or  not, we have a rule of law in Colorado."

Rep. Jared Polis, the Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District and is the Vice Chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, slammed Coffman’s lawsuit Tuesday.

“We should all be outraged that the Colorado attorney general has chosen to use public tax dollars to bully Boulder County on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” Polis said in a statement. “The oil and gas industry is more than equipped to bring their own lawsuits, and I suspect they have opted not to sue Boulder County because they know Colorado law allows for a short term fracking moratorium.  What the attorney general has done today is a purely political waste of money, and it is not legally sound.”

State Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, also criticized Coffman’s perceived ties with the oil and gas industry in a statement.

“This is disgraceful. After seeing the Attorney General’s and Oil and Gas industry’s press releases about the lawsuit sent out almost at the same time, I think it’s safe to assume the Attorney General is using the powers of her office and using tax dollars to intimidate and sue taxpayers at the behest of special interest industries,” he said. “The question I have for the Attorney General is this: how many oil and gas corporations did she consult with before sending out her threat letter to Boulder County on January 26?”


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