WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2017 - Colorado’s Republican attorney general sent a letter last week to the Democrats who control the Boulder County Board of Commissioners, calling their moratorium on new oil and gas development in the county “illegal.”
Last May, the commission imposed a temporary moratorium on accepting new applications for oil and gas development in unincorporated areas of the county. The moratorium was due to expire in November but the commission could not finalize new regulations and extended the moratorium through May 1.
The three members of the Board of Commissioners – all Democrats – say they are “deeply concerned about the negative impacts that fracking can have on the environment, public health, and the economy of Boulder County.”
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says the Colorado Supreme Court has made it clear that local governments do not have the authority to ban oil and gas development.
“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,” Coffman said in a statement. “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."
In a previous statement issued in December, Commissioner Deb Gardner said that given the Colorado Supreme Court’s rulings on preemption of state law over local law in this area, the commissioners do not believe it is feasible to continue to prevent oil and gas development in Boulder County.
However, Gardner says they will continue their efforts to “rectify this situation at the state level,” and work to make sure that they use all of the authority they have to ensure that operations are as “safe and environmentally responsible as possible.”
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In a Jan. 27 response to Coffman, county attorney Ben Pearlman said the county is familiar with the case law but that “it would be irresponsible for the county to permit oil and gas development in Boulder County without having up-to-date regulations in place and a period in which to prepare for the implementation of those regulations. Should the Attorney General’s Office decide to pursue litigation based on its arbitrary deadline of Feb. 10, 2017, the county will be prepared to defend it. However, we hope you recognize that litigation over whether the county accepts applications in February rather than May would be an unjustified intrusion into local government affairs, not to mention a waste of taxpayer resources.”
“No irreparable injury to mineral owners or oil and gas operators will occur in this three-month timeframe,” Pearlman said. “However, forcing the county to move forward with out-of-date regulations could cause significant harm to the public and the environment.”