Our View: Lawsuit should give clarity
August 4, 2012
The inevitable happened last week, and not a moment too soon. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's lawsuit against the city of Longmont means local governments, the energy industry and the state might finally get some clarity about who has what say in regulating oil and gas development in Colorado.
Many who have followed the growing rift between the Oil and Gas Commission, whose role is to regulate the oil and gas industry in Colorado, and the counties and municipalities struggling with how best to manage energy development in their communities knew the battle over regulatory authority ultimately would be decided in a courtroom. Indeed, Routt County has played a role of its own in the debate. Our county commissioners were emboldened recently in a battle of words with the Oil and Gas Commission about a county condition that Quicksilver Resources must employ water quality monitoring wells if it wants to drill an exploratory well near the unincorporated town of Milner.
A similar water quality monitoring rule imposed on the oil and gas industry by new city of Longmont regulations helped lead the state Attorney General's Office, acting on behalf of the Oil and Gas Commission, to file suit in Boulder County Court last week. In a nutshell, the state is arguing that the city of Longmont — and presumably other cities and counties who have taken it upon themselves to enact regulations or conditions above and beyond those imposed by the Oil and Gas Commission — overstepped its bounds and has usurped the authority of the commission.
We've previously supported Routt County's efforts to take responsibility for safeguarding the health and safety of its residents and resources, and we've also been critical of the lack of clarity in regulatory authority of the energy industry in Colorado. Further, we're not convinced the Oil and Gas Commission has the staffing and resources to effectively regulate the energy industry. Gov. John Hickenlooper's task force earlier this year did nothing to resolve the issue, so now the courts will. We don't expect an answer anytime soon, and we imagine the loser in the Longmont case will appeal to a higher court. That means it could be years before Colorado sorts through the rules governing energy development.
Pennsylvania communities got their answer late last month when a lower court ruled in favor of seven municipalities that sued their state over a new law that required cities and towns to allow drilling even in areas where local zoning rules would prohibit it.
We tend to think the Pennsylvania court got it right — local governments should have regulatory authority over oil and gas issues in their own backyard. But whatever the outcome, it will be beneficial to everyone involved to have clarity,