Longmont wants fracking fight moved to Boulder County

Longmont wants fracking fight moved to Boulder County by Scott Rochat, December 18, 2012, Longmont Times-Call
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association sued the city Monday in Weld County District Court, charging that Longmont’s new ban of hydraulic fracturing was effectively a ban on drilling as well. Longmont voters added the ban to the city charter in November, forbidding both “fracking” — a process for cracking open oil and gas deposits using high-pressure water, sand and chemicals — and the storage of waste resulting from it. But although the potential drilling sites that first sparked the city’s fracking debate are in Weld County, that’s not where the case should go, Mayor Dennis Coombs said Tuesday. “Our city charter is in Boulder County,” Coombs said. “Our citizens are in Boulder County. People put this on the ballot in Boulder County. There’s only a handful of voters in the city of Longmont that are in Weld County.” He said the city’s attorneys would work on getting the case moved, and that he suspected COGA picked the venue to try to get a more friendly setting. About one-third of all Colorado oil and gas wells are located in Weld County, more than any other county in the state. “I was actually kind of surprised that the state’s lawsuit wasn’t filed in Weld County,” Coombs said, referring to a July lawsuit against the city’s newly drafted oil and gas regulations by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. In that earlier suit, the COGCC charged that Longmont had overstepped its authority by regulating areas that are controlled by the state; the city maintains that its land-use authority as a home rule city allowed the move, including a restriction on surface drilling in residential zones. The COGA lawsuit filed Monday claims that a ban on fracking is effectively a ban on drilling, something that Colorado courts have put off-limits since 1992. According to COGA, 95 percent of wells in Colorado have been fracked.

Besides being pre-empted by state law, COGA charged, the ban is also a taking of private property without compensation and would result in “uneven and wasteful production” of oil and gas reserves in the area. In a separate statement, COGA estimated the value of those reserves at $500 million; since Longmont owns 90 percent of the mineral rights in city limits, the association said, the city government would stand to earn up to $90 million in royalty payments if fully developed. Coombs responded that he’d be surprised if anyone knew what the reserves are truly worth or how extensive they are. “At this point, everyone’s going to be throwing out numbers about what they think it’s worth,” he said. “All part of the game, I guess.” … Coombs said the legal battles would have been unnecessary if the state had been more willing to work with Longmont on residential drilling restrictions and setback limits, the minimum distance between a well and an occupied building. Currently, the COGCC allows wells 350 feet from homes, though the commission has also been holding rulemaking hearings on whether to increase that separation. “It could all have been prevented,”. [Emphasis added]

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