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Judge overturns Fort Collins five-year fracking ban

A fracking site in Weld County was temporarily shut down while experts determined the cause of earthquakes in May and June 2014. (Photo: KDVR)

A fracking site in Weld County

DENVER — A judge threw out Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium on fracking, the first such vote by a Colorado city, in a ruling handed down Thursday.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association filed a suit in late 2013 challenging the bans passed by voters in Fort Collins and Longmont after voters approved them.

District Judge Gregory Lammons ruled Thursday that the Fort Collins moratorium is preempted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act because it “impedes a state interest and prohibits what the state law allows.”

“The City’s five-year ban effectively eliminates the possibility of oil and gas development within the City,” Lammons writes. “This is so because hydraulic fracturing is used in ‘virtually all oil and gas wells’ in Colorado.

“To eliminate a technology that is used in virtually all oil and gas wells would substantially impede the state’s interest in oil and gas production.”

The ruling comes just three days after Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a last-minute agreement with Boulder Congressman Jared Polis to create an 18-person task force to come up with potential legislative solutions to the unsettled question of whether the state or local governments control oil and gas drilling.

“The message is unmistakable. Colorado’s communities through tough state regulations and flexible local authority already have the tools and ability to regulate oil and gas activity to meet their local needs,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“Judge Lammons’ ruling also makes clear that bans on safe, legal and responsible energy processes like hydraulic fracturing are simply illegal and wrong. Those that continue to promote these bans knowingly inflict on our citizens deceptive and destructive proposals that cost us all.”

Polis agreed to stop pursuing two ballot measures that would have quadrupled setbacks statewide and made it easier for local communities to pass fracking bans, initiatives the industry, business groups, Republicans and most mainstream Democrats were geared up to oppose, but has said he may bring the initiatives back in 2016 if lawmakers don’t make meaningful progress on the issue over the next two years.

Hickenlooper agreed to drop the state’s lawsuit against Longmont challenging its fracking ban.

Earlier Thursday, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission officially voted to toss the lawsuit.

Just weeks ago, a Boudler County judge threw out the Longmont ban.