The lawsuit against Longmont's ban on fracking has now roped in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state's regulatory agency.

Boulder County District Court Judge D.D. Mallard said she would allow the Colorado Oil and Gas Association to bring in the COGCC as an additional plaintiff, a move called "joinder." In her ruling, Mallard said that while both parties had an interest in seeing the ban overturned, the state agency had aims that would not be adequately represented by COGA, the state's largest oil and gas industry group.

COGCC director Matt Lepore speaks during a panel discussion about oil and gas regulations in Longmont at the American Legion hall in 2012.
COGCC director Matt Lepore speaks during a panel discussion about oil and gas regulations in Longmont at the American Legion hall in 2012. ( Greg Lindstrom )

"COGA's interest in this case is to overturn the charter amendment so that its members can proceed with oil and gas production using fracking as a method of production in wells located in Longmont," Mallard wrote. "The commission, on the other hand, has a broader interest in its ability to protect its plenary and regulatory authority to regulate the technical aspects of oil and gas drilling, generally, in Colorado."

The COGCC agreed to be joined in the case.

Longmont voters passed the ban on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," last November with about 60 percent in favor. Supporters of the ban say the practice can lead to environmental damage; opponents say the practice is so well-established that a ban on fracking is practically a ban on drilling, and that only the state has the authority to regulate the methods used.

COGA sued the city in December in Weld County; the venue was later changed to Boulder County. Several other parties have asked to enter or "intervene in" the suit, including the oil and gas company TOP Operating, the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, Earthworks and the activist group Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont.

The court has allowed all those groups to intervene, though often with a warning not to go beyond the issues already on the table.

"If further proceedings indicate expansion ... beyond the issues originally pled by COGA and the city, or that this order did in fact open floodgates, COGA may request further relief," the judge ruled.

The COGCC itself sued Longmont in July 2012 over the city's new oil and gas regulations, which include a restriction against drilling in residential zones. In a September 2012 visit to Longmont, Gov. John Hickenlooper warned that adopting a fracking ban could lead to a second state lawsuit, but that appeared to change in a December speech at the Rockies Midstream Conference.

In that speech, given to 300 oil and gas executives, Hickenlooper said the state wouldn't sue Longmont over the ban because it wasn't sure it had legal standing to do so.

"We do stand ready to support an energy company that does file a lawsuit in response to the ban," said Eric Brown, a spokesman for the governor, following the speech.

Our Longmont, the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and Earthworks issued a joint statement Wednesday denouncing the state's entry into the fracking case.

"Governor Hickenlooper has now in effect sued the citizens of Longmont twice," the groups said. "For the governor and his state agency to attempt to overturn the vote of the people is unconscionable."

COGCC director Matt Lepore emphasized that the commission didn't initiate the lawsuit or the process, and was only brought into the case because of a legal step by COGA.

"That said," Lepore added, "the COGCC does believe Longmont's ban on hydraulic fracturing is contrary to state law and we believe clarity from the courts on this matter is important for all parties."

Scott Rochat can be reached at 303-684-5220 or srochat@times-call.com.