State oil commission drops Longmont lawsuit, advances setback enforcement

The state agency that regulates oil and natural-gas development agreed Thursday to drop its lawsuit against the city of Longmont and also will require new detail from oil companies that plan to locate facilities within 1,000 feet of buildings.

At the request of Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will dismiss its litigation that challenged the city’s regulations on oil and gas operations. The lawsuit is separate from litigation by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association challenging Longmont’s ban on hydraulic fracturing.

The decision to drop the lawsuit follows an announcement by Hickenlooper to create an 18-member task force, chaired by La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and XTO Energy Inc. President Randy Cleveland, to make recommendations to the legislature about oil and gas regulations. Hickenlooper announced the task force in a deal to squash ballot initiatives that would have increased well buffers to 2,000 feet and created an environmental bill of rights.

The state oil commission also agreed to create a condition that the agency would not bring forth the lawsuit’s claims again, according to the city of Longmont. The city has spent $164,000 defending the lawsuit, filed in 2012 by the state oil commission.

“We are hopeful and anticipate that the COGCC will honor their stated intention that the city of Longmont will never again be sued over our regulations,” said Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs in a statement.

Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, also directed the state oil commission to begin requiring additional detail from oil companies related to locating wells within 1,000 feet of buildings. Companies will have to show that they are following a rule that requires their facilities to be located as far as possible from buildings when they are located within 1,000 feet.

The state has a minimum setback of 500 feet between oil wells and buildings, though drilling cannot take place within 1,000 feet of buildings housing larger numbers of people, including schools, nursing homes and hospitals, without a hearing before the commission.

The existing setback rules also requires companies to take steps to limit impacts when they drill within 1,000 feet of an occupied building, such as following noise limits, eliminating pits that contain waste, minimizing odors and developing a leak detection plan.

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