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Business coalition says Thornton should heed Coffman’s advice on local control

Author: Joey Bunch - August 16, 2017 - Updated: August 18, 2017

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fracking protesters(File photo by Ernest Luning/ Colorado Politics)

As city fathers in Thornton examine local regulations on fracking at their meeting next week, they’re sitting on a letter advice warning them not to test state law.

“Under the law of operational preemption, local governments may not enact regulations that conflict with the Oil and Gas Conservation Act … or COGCC regulations in a matter of mixed or statewide concern,” states the letter from the Attorney General’s Office.

“Many matters addressed by the Draft Regulations are already regulated by the COGCC and similar regulations have caused local communities to come into conflict with the state in the past.”

And those local governments haven’t had any success challenging the state’s authority to regulate oil and gas operations.

The Thornton City Council gave preliminary approval to new guidelines that would prevent companies from abandoning flow lines, require them to carry at least $5 million in liability insurance and maintain 750-foot setbacks, all of which exceed state requirements.

A copy of the letter was provided to Colorado Politics by Vital Colorado, the statewide business coalition that supports responsible energy development.

Vital for Colorado Chairman Peter Moore released the a statement Tuesday in response to the letter:

“The attorney general’s office is saying local officials who stand up to anti-fracking groups will have the law on their side,. They will also be saving their taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending on litigation, because state law could not be clearer on this point.

“The Colorado Supreme Court reaffirmed decades of case law in a decision last year striking down local energy bans. In that decision, the court said a local ordinance ‘that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes’ will be necessarily preempted by state law and COGCC regulations.

“This decision, along with the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures, was a huge defeat for the anti-fracking campaign in Colorado. So now they are giving local officials just plain bad legal advice to trigger more conflict and more litigation, instead of constructive dialogue.”

Vital for Colorado cited a “network of fringe environmental groups” they say are lobbying local officials o the Front Range to kill the extraction industry, even as Weld County sits atop one the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S.

Residents cite concerns about the proximity of wells and pipelines to homes and schools, as well as potential air quality concerns. The industry has invested millions in public education to convince Coloradans that fracking is a safe, clean industry. Their message was complicated by a house explosion that killed two people in Firestone, which was linked to an Anadarko Petroleum line.

“The activist campaign to pressure local officials has also included unsuccessful recall efforts of local officials in Thornton and in neighboring Broomfield,” Vital for Colorado said.

The Thornton City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at City Hall at 9500 Civic Center Drive in Thornton. Comments or questions can be sent to oilandgasregulations@cityofthornton.net.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.