Oil Drill Site colorado

An oil well is drilled on a property across from a subdivision near Frederick.

A U.S. District Court judge in Denver has rejected a request to order a halt to an oil and gas development project in Broomfield in a lawsuit challenging Colorado's "forced pooling" laws.

Colorado's forced-pooling statutes enable oil and gas operators to obtain an order from the state to combine the mineral rights of a group of property owners into a cohesive drilling unit — even if individual property owners in the unit do not consent to leasing or selling their mineral rights.

An oil and gas company must offer fair payment to property owners to lease the mineral rights in a drilling unit it is trying to put together. If landowners decline to sign the lease offers, the operator can request the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) grant a forced-pooling order to consolidate the mineral rights.

Thirty-four states have such laws, which are seen as a tool to ensure the orderly and efficient development of oil  and gas resources, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

In January, the anti-fracking group Colorado Rising -- led by former state lawmaker Joe Salazar -- sued the state, Gov. Jared Polis and the COGCC on behalf of homeowners in Broomfield's Wildgrass neighborhood opposed to proposed drilling by Extraction Oil and Gas near their homes.

The suit challenged the constitutionality of the state's force-pooling laws, saying it "grants exclusive privileges to private gas and oil operators" and injures property owners by not letting them negotiate with Extraction.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson refused to issue a restraining order halting the Broomfield project, Greg Avery of the Denver Business Journal reports.

Jackson ruled after being assured that drilling won't begin until June -- after a March hearing on Extraction's pooling application before the COGCC.

The case comes against the backdrop of a policy debate over whether the COGCC should do more to take public health and safety into account in regulation the state's fossil-fuel industry.

The state Supreme Court ruled in January that state law does not allow regulators to make public health and the environment their top priority when setting rules for oil and gas drilling. That led Democrats who control the Legislature and the governor's office to say they plan to change the law.

Erin Prater of Colorado Politics and the Associated Press contributed.

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