LONGMONT -- The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission sued the city of Longmont on Monday, saying the city's new oil and gas rules trespassed into areas meant to be governed by the state.
The lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon in Boulder County District Court. In it, assistant attorney general Jake Matter asked the court to kill several of the new regulations, including a restriction against drilling in residential areas.
"No possible construction of the disputed provisions of the ordinance can be harmonized with the state regulatory regime," Matter wrote in the lawsuit.
The Longmont City Council passed the rules on July 17 by a 5-2 vote, its first update of the city's drilling rules since 2000. The regulations became effective Monday.
Mayor Dennis Coombs said he couldn't comment on the case now that a lawsuit had been filed, but added that he was pleased with the venue.
"I will say that I'm glad they filed in Boulder County, and not Weld County or Denver or someplace else," Coombs said.
The state announced last week that it would sue, a decision that surprised no one on the council.
"In the end, our job is to protect the city of Longmont and its residents," Councilman Gabe Santos said last week.
The case is believed to be the first time the COGCC has sued a community over oil and gas rules. Cities and towns have been sued on the issue before, but typically by oil and gas companies or private landowners.
In the lawsuit, Matter laid out eight concerns the state has. Two are among the best-known provisions in the new law: The city can require water-quality monitoring until five years after the well is abandoned, if necessary, and surface drilling would be banned in residential areas. An operator can ask for an exception to the drilling ban if the restriction would make it impossible to access the company's mineral rights.
In both cases, Matter argued, the rules are "pre-empted" by state authority.
"The city's prohibition will have an extraterritorial effect on the development and production of oil and gas," Matter wrote regarding the residential restriction. "The city ban affects the ability of owners of oil and gas in pools that underlie both the city's residential areas, including 'planned' residential areas, and land outside the city to obtain an equitable share of production profits."
The state also objected to the city's rules for wildlife protection and its required separation distance, or setback, between wells and a wildlife or riparian area. Existing city code requires any building to be at least 100 feet away from a stream or river corridor, or 150 feet from St. Vrain Creek, Boulder Creek, Dry Creek No. 2, Union Reservoir and Left Hand Creek.
Not only did that disregard state authority, Matter said, it disregarded proper well spacing. "Oil and gas are found in subterranean pools, the boundaries of which do not conform to any jurisdictional pattern," Matter wrote in the lawsuit. "(A)n irregular drilling pattern will result in less than optimal recovery and a corresponding waste of oil and gas."
The state also asks the court to strike down:
A requirement that multi-well sites and horizontal drilling be used "whenever possible and appropriate."
A requirement to fully disclose any hazardous materials transported on city roadways.
A rule saying companies may have to file a visual impact analysis, including suggestions
A rule saying exceptions can be granted if an "operational conflict" with state rules is found to exist by the city.
"The waiver is illusory because the city has no authority to determine whether an operational conflict exists," Matter argued.
While drafting the regulations, city officials said the rules fell within Longmont's land-use authority, including its ability to keep industrial activity out of a residential zone.
"I think it would be the state's waste of time and money if they decide to pursue a lawsuit with us," Councilman Alex Sammoury said July 10, a week before the new rules passed.