The state won't sue Longmont over its fracking ban, but will support any oil or gas companies that choose to do so, Gov. John Hickenlooper's office confirmed Friday morning.
The governor first made the announcement Thursday afternoon to about 300 oil and gas executives at the Rockies Midstream Conference in Denver. The statement marks a shift since Hickenlooper's last visit to Longmont in September, when he said that banning hydraulic fracturing would likely bring a second state lawsuit.
"After further consideration it became clear that wasn't the right path going forward," said Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper. "The state will not sue Longmont over the fracking ban because there is uncertainty over whether the state has legal standing to sue in this instance. But we do stand ready to support an energy company that does file a lawsuit in response to the ban."
A question of standing means it's unclear whether the state itself -- in this case, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission -- would be considered an injured party and thus eligible to sue. Support of any industry suit, Brown said, would probably be through a friend-of-the-court brief.
Now part of the city charter as Article 16, the ban puts Longmont off-limits to hydraulic fracturing or the storage of waste from the practice. Popularly known as "fracking," the technique uses high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to crack open oil and gas deposits deep below the earth's surface. The practice is common in the industry but also controversial, with opponents claiming that fracking can lead to environmental damage.
Mayor Dennis Coombs said he was pleased by the governor's decision but not surprised.
"We pretty much expected that they wouldn't sue us on this," Coombs said. "It's more of an industry issue."
The state already has one lawsuit against Longmont, pressed after the city passed its new oil and gas regulations in July. The COGCC claims that the regulations, which include restrictions against surface drilling in residential zones, trespass on state authority. Longmont attempted to get the case dismissed, arguing that the state lacked standing, but in November, a Boulder County District Court judge ruled that the case could move forward.
The judge also allowed the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the state's largest oil and gas industry group, to join the lawsuit. COGA has not yet announced whether it would take any action against Article 16 as well.
Even with the risk of a second state lawsuit gone, Coombs wasn't quite ready to breathe a sigh of relief.
"I'm grateful," he said. "But I'm pretty sure that this doesn't mean we're off the hook by a long shot."
Scott Rochat can be reached at 303-684-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.