Assistant Professor Alex Ritchie spoke at the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Annual Institute in Vail, Colorado, on July 18, 2014, to lawyers and academics on trends and developments in the regulation of oil and gas operations by cities, counties, and other local governments.
Ritchie says the debate over local government control has been fueled by controversy throughout the country surrounding the process of hydraulic fracturing, which involves the injection of water, sand, and chemicals deep underground to fracture the surrounding rock to allow for the release of hydrocarbons. “Local residents have become more concerned, especially as more domestic production has meant more drilling rigs, transport trucks, storage tanks, and other oil and gas facilities arriving in local neighborhoods,” says Ritchie. “Local concern is driving more local regulation, which affects both landowners and producers.”
Ritchie introduced the types of claims that industry and state governments have been bringing to challenge local government regulation, and then summarized some recent court decisions that indicate a trend towards deference to local control.
Ritchie then moderated a panel discussion among Matt Lepore, the Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Phil Barber, an attorney who represents municipalities in Colorado, and Terry Bossert, a Vice President of Range Resources – Appalachia, LLC, who has been involved in challenges to local control in Pennsylvania
The panelists brought different perspectives to the issue and sometimes disagreed as to the extent local governments have the right to regulate oil and gas operations in light of conflicting state regulation, although all of them acknowledged at least some role for local governments.
The talk and panel discussion were covered in an article by Ellen Gilmer, entitled “Oil and gas revolution brings legal uncertainty, pricey litigation,” in the July 22, 2014 issue of EnergyWire.
Ritchie said that he was happy the talk and panel discussion were well received. “To me the most satisfying aspect of the conference was that UNM was able to send three students to listen to the excellent presentations and to meet practitioners representing different disciplines and perspectives related to energy, environmental, and natural resources law,” says Ritchie. “One UNM student who attended recently received a scholarship from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation.”
Ritchie has authored an article on the policy issues surrounding the local government debate, arguing that compelling state interests favor the regulation of most aspects of oil and gas operations at the state, rather than the local level. The article, “On Local Fracking Bans: Policy and Preemption in New Mexico,” will appear in the fall issue of the Natural Resources Journal. Ritchie has also authored an article addressing recent legal trends and developments on the local regulation of oil and gas that will be published in the Proceedings of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Annual Institute.