A fracking ban in the city of Longmont, Colorado, was thrown out by a judge amid petition drives to hold a statewide vote in November on restricting oil and gas drilling that generate $30 billion a year.
The debate over fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are injected below ground to extract oil and gas from sand and shale formations, has escalated in Colorado as drilling moves closer to suburbs, raising concerns about water and air contamination. Five communities in the state have voted to ban or put a moratorium on such activity.
Judge Dolores Mallard yesterday granted a request by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association to overturn a voter-approved ban on the use of fracking. Mallard rejected Longmont’s argument that the ban is legitimate because the fracking amounts to a purely local matter.
“The judge has invited us to seek the change we need either through the higher courts or the legislature,” Bruce Baizel, director of Earthworks Energy Program, a group that supported the ban, said in an e-mailed statement. “We fully intend to pursue the former on appeal while the latter underscores the need for the citizens of Colorado to get out and support the Environmental Bill of Rights ballot measure this fall.”
Mallard ruled that Longmont can’t override the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She also overturned a ban on the storage and disposal of fracking waste within city limits.
“The court finds the matter of mixed local and state interest,” Mallard wrote in her opinion. “Longmont does not have the authority, in a matter of mixed state and local concern, to negate the authority of the Commission,” she wrote, adding that the city “does not have the authority to prohibit what the state authorizes and permits.”
Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, a Republican, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that Mallard got the ruling “right.”
Mallard stayed her ruling to give environmental groups a chance to appeal it.
Kaye Fissinger, president of one of those groups, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, said the ruling is the first to overturn a local fracking ban in the state.
“It’s tragic that the judge views the current law in Colorado as one in which fracking is more important than public health,” Fissinger said in an e-mailed statement. “Reversing that backwards priority is a long-term battle that we’re determined to continue.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and business leaders have vowed to defeat ballot initiative proposals that would amend the state constitution to require wells to be set back 2,000 feet from structures and provide communities with more control over where drilling takes place.
U.S. Representative Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder who is backing the initiative requiring 2,000 feet of space, has said it’s now up to the people of Colorado to address the fracking issue. Supporters of the initiative must turn in 86,105 valid signatures of registered voters by Aug. 4 to place the measures on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Whiting Petroleum Corp. and Encana Corp., which are drilling in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, one of the nation’s richest oil and gas fields, said on July 16 they will spend $50 million to fight the measures. Drilling in the basin has helped make Colorado the nation’s sixth-largest natural-gas producer and ninth-biggest oil producer.
The case is Colorado Oil & Gas Association v. City of Longmont, 2013-cv-63, Boulder County, Colorado, District Court (Boulder).