Colo. Attorney General Threatens Lawsuit Over Boulder County Oil, Gas Moratorium

Jan 26, 2017

Updated at 1:30 p.m. MT on Jan. 27

Boulder County could wind up in court over its continued moratorium on oil and gas development.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman sent a letter to Boulder County Commissioners Jan. 26 threatening legal action if they don’t begin permitting new oil and gas development including fracking, on unincorporated areas within the county by Feb. 10.

According to the letter, it’s been almost five years since Boulder County has allowed new oil and gas development — and that’s significant. In 2016, two state Supreme Court decisions made clear that local governments can’t prohibit oil and gas on a local level.

One of those decisions struck down a five-year moratorium by the city of Fort Collins. Coffman’s letter said that since it appears Boulder County’s may go on longer, it is “clearly unlawful.”

A statement released by Coffman outlines the attorney general’s reasoning:

“The Colorado Supreme Court has made clear that local governments do not have the authority to ban oil and gas development. The authority to regulate that area belongs to the State, and every county is required to honor state laws and regulations that govern the responsible development of oil and gas resources across Colorado. Boulder County’s continued moratorium on new oil and gas development is a clear violation of state law, and as Colorado's chief law-enforcement official I cannot turn a blind eye. I am hopeful that the Boulder County Commissioners will take the necessary steps to come into compliance rather than forcing the State to go to court."

 

Boulder County has had a moratorium in place since 2012 and has extended it several times. Most recently commissioners voted in December 2016 to extend it until at least May 1, 2017, while they revise the county's oil and gas regulations. Commissioner Elise Jones said they need that time to update their oil and gas regulations and decide how to implement them.

“We think we have a good plan in place and we plan to stick to it. And quite frankly, we’re not going to be bullied or threatened by the state to renege on our duty to safeguard our residents and our environment," she said. 

A hearing on the proposed revisions to the county’s regulations is set for March 14 — past Coffman's Feb. 10 deadline. Jones said a response to Coffman’s letter is forthcoming.