Fort Collins approves fracking ban, defying Hickenlooper’s threat

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DENVER — The Fort Collins city council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, within the city, defying Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has threatened to sue any municipality that does so.

The vote itself and the council’s defiant tone was a shot across the bow at Colorado’s popular Democratic governor, who is facing a growing insurgency over this issue from the environmental community within his party’s base.

“I believe the governor should spend his time protecting the health and safety and welfare of citizens of Colorado rather than acting like the chief lobbyist for the oil and gas industry,” said Fort Collins Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Ohlson Tuesday night. “In fact, I think he should literally quit drinking the fracking Kool-Aid.”

Hickenlooper, the former geologist who told Congress last month that he’s drank fracking fluid, the mix of water and chemicals that energy companies inject into mineral deposits deep beneath the surface to loosen gas deposits for extraction, has been a steadfast defender of the oil and gas industry.

Having threatened to sue any municipality that resists the state on fracking, Hickenlooper has little choice but to follow through.

“The governor takes no joy in suing local government,” said the governor’s spokesman, Eric Brown, in a statement. “As a former mayor he respects local planning and control. He also has an obligation to uphold the law. The governor wants to be honest with local communities about the state’s legal obligations. Bans like the one passed in Fort Collins violate state law.”

While the Fort Collins council did what is no doubt popular — nearly all of the 65 people who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting supported the ban based on concerns about air pollution and groundwater contamination from fracking — it’s also, the governor contends, a violation of state law.

Longmont, which voted to ban fracking last year, is now facing to separate lawsuits filed by the state and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“The state Supreme Court has clearly stated that drilling cannot be banned within a city, county or municipality,” COGA president Tisha Schuller said in a statement. “Colorado-produced oil and gas is an important part of the energy that we all require every single day. If not here, then where should your energy be produced?”

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