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BOULDER, CO- Today Earthworks and Sierra Club filed a motion to intervene in the State of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s lawsuit to invalidate a Longmont City Ordinance that would protect residents from the pollution and associated health  threats of oil and gas development.

The challenged Ordinance, passed in July 2012, prohibits oil and gas surface activities from occurring near homes, schools and hospitals, and places mandatory setbacks from these and other facilities, as well as from waterways and parks. The Ordinance also requires disclosure to emergency responders of hazardous chemicals transported through the City and consultation with local wildlife experts before operations begin.

“Recent research shows that oil and gas development risks the health of those living nearby,” said Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project Director Bruce Baizel. He continued, “Longmont’s Ordinance is necessary to protect the public’s health because it fills a regulatory void. It is ironic that COGCC is suing to overturn the Ordinance because the void it fills was left by the COGCC’s failure to set and enforce adequate rules governing oil and gas development.”

Over the past decade Colorado has experienced a historic boom in oil and gas drilling. Colorado currently has more than 50,000 active oil and gas wells covering much of the state’s landscape. Across Colorado’s northern plains, oil and gas companies are increasingly operating not only in sparsely populated areas, but also in towns and suburbs.

This growing trend of drilling near homes and schools prompted the City of Longmont, located 37 miles north of Denver and on the western edge of Colorado’s most productive oil and gas field, to update its land use rules to prohibit certain surface activities in residential areas.

The new rules immediately came under legal attack by the State of Colorado calling into question the City’s authority to protect its own citizens from the adverse effects of oil and gas development.

“We believe this is the first time a State has initiated a lawsuit against a local government regarding oil and gas regulation,” said Eric Huber, Senior Managing Attorney for the
Sierra Club Environmental Law Program. “This action by the State government only proves that decision-making by our representatives is not always done with people in mind. If Longmont wants to prevent certain dirty and dangerous practices from energy companies from happening, then that should be their right.”

“It is imperative that Colorado communities have the ability to protect their citizens from the many harmful impacts from oil and gas mining operations,” said Shane Davis, Longmont resident and Sierra Club chapter member. “The industry has operated largely without meaningful and safe regulations and we must not let that happen any longer.”

In the lawsuit, Earthworks and Sierra Club also plan to defend Longmont’s new hazardous materials disclosure rule for chemicals transported on Longmont’s roadways, as well as the city’s new wildlife habitat and species protection rule, as they do not conflict with state law.

The State and oil industry may oppose the environmental groups’ intervention, although the Boulder County court previously allowed the industry association COGA to intervene. Attorneys for the environmental groups expect a ruling from the court in about 30 days, and the case to proceed to a decision on the merits of the State’s claims later this spring.

This lawsuit could have a precedential effect on other Colorado communities working to pass similar local regulations to protect the health and environment of residents across the state from the threats of rampant oil and gas development.  

For more information on Sierra Club’s efforts to protect communities from harmful oil and gas operations go to http://content.sierraclub.org/naturalgas ; and to http://rmc.sierraclub.org/ ; and for Earthworks see http://fracking.earthworks.org.