May 2, 2016

CO Supreme Court Strikes Down Local Fracking Bans

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A drilling rig operating near Erie, Colorado on Monday.

Dan Boyce/Inside Energy

A drilling rig operating near Erie, Colorado on Monday.

The Colorado Supreme Court struck down fracking limits Monday in two front-range communities, a big win for industry in a state still divided over oil and gas drilling near rapidly growing populations.

Justices unanimously ruled the state’s interest in the “efficient and responsible development of oil and gas resources” preempts an outright fracking ban in Longmont and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins, calling the policies “invalid and unenforceable.” Voters in those communities approved both policies several years ago and they ended up before the Supreme Court after a lawsuit from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Officials from the two cities were slow to respond to the rulings Monday, saying staff lawyers needed time to review them.

“The case did not end as the city hoped, but we respect the Supreme Court’s decision,” Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs said in a statement.

Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, praised the court’s ruling. He said his organization has long maintained not only that bans and long-term moratoria on drilling are illegal in Colorado, but that they are not an effective way to address local concerns over oil and gas development.

“This is not just a win for the energy industry but for the people of Colorado who rely on affordable and dependable energy and a strong economy,” Haley said in a statement. “It sends a strong message to anyone trying to drive this vital industry out of the state that those efforts will not be tolerated.”

The court’s ruling did not specifically address other community policies limiting drilling in Boulder, Boulder County, Broomfield and Lafayette. Haley argued the justices’ message was clear, and suggested other communities with such limits should “voluntarily withdraw them at this point.”

A statement from the Boulder County Board of Commissioners said the immediate impacts of the ruling on the county’s fracking moratorium will need further analysis, but promised residents the county will continue to work to protect community interests within the bounds of this new, clarified, law.

Despite these setbacks,” the statement reads, “we applaud Longmont and Ft. Collins for their heroic efforts to protect residents from the environmental and safety risks posed by fracking as well as its nuisance impacts.”

Currently, four proposed anti-oil and gas initiatives are gathering signatures for the November ballot. Cliff Wilmeng is organizing around one called the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, which would give more authority to local governments in conflicts with industry. He said he wasn’t surprised by the decision, and that it’s a sign of industry’s outsized influence on state politics.

“It says that the corporate legal authority is more substantial than our ability to protect our fundamental rights where we live,” Wilmeng said, hoping the court’s decision galvanizes support for his cause.