Colorado Town’s Fracking Ban Struck Down

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Grace Hood (left), Irekia - Eusko Jaurlaritza (right)/KUNC/Creative Commons

Fracking vs Frac’ing: On the left, fracking protesters hold signs outside Fort Collins City Council Chambers March 5, 2013. On the right, the fracking process at a well site.

In the “to-frack-or-not-to-frack” war, the fracking opposition was dealt a major blow on Thursday when a Boulder district court ruled that the city of Longmont’s ban on hydraulic fracturing is invalid.

Longmont city passed a measure banning fracking within city limits in November 2012, an act that kicked off a series of bans or moratoriums in Colorado’s Front Range cities— the city of Lafayette has also passed a fracking ban, and Fort Collins has passed a five-year moratorium on fracking.

But now, as reported by KUNC’s Stephanie Paige Ogburn, Judge D.D. Mallard’s decision affirms that local jurisdictions can’t ban fracking.  The judge ruled that the ban fails a four-part test that determines whether local laws can preempt state law:

The Court finds Article XVI of the Longmont Municipal Charter, which bans hydraulic fracturing and the storage and disposal of hydraulic fracturing waste in the City of Longmont, is invalid as preempted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act.

This decision is the first court case on a fracking ban to be decided in the state. Although the judge issued a stay, allowing the city time to appeal, the ruling is a setback for those who oppose fracking, not just in Colorado, but also across the country.

But it could simply be the latest twist in the increasingly tortured fracking story. In May Inside Energy’s Dan Boyce interviewed Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on the issue of giving local governments some control over oil and gas drilling. In the interview, Hickenlooper outlined his opposition to the local bans and plans to head off November ballot initiatives to restrict fracking with legislation.  That effort has since failed.

As Inside Energy has reported, Colorado is quickly becoming ground zero for a political war over the future of hydraulic fracturing.  Other states are also fighting their own fracking wars. As reported by KQED, anti-fracking activists in California are taking their own battle to counties, after a statewide moratorium on fracking has stalled in the state legislature.

Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission saw Thursday’s court decision as a major victory and they are now in the process of suing other cities in the state that have attempted a ban.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jared Polis is continuing to push two controversial ballot initiatives to give cities more control over oil and gas drilling. And advocates for Longmont’s ban vow to appeal Thursday’s ruling. Kaye Fissinger, president of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont said that she is encouraged by the court’s decision to immediately stay the ruling.

We’re expecting this, all the way along the line, that this would be a back and forth kind of issue that would not be settled by a district court, however the judge ruled,” she said. “One side or the other would appeal. We, especially ‘Our Longmont,’ have vowed to take this all to the Supreme Court if that’s what’s required.

So anti-frackers may have lost the battle, but the war continues.