Boulder County judge overturns Longmont fracking ban; Polis continues signature push

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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 — Another day in Colorado, another ban struck down by a judge in a ruling accompanied by a stay.

But Thursday’s ruling from a Boulder County judge struck down a municipal ban on fracking, not a statewide ban on same-sex marriage.

Judge D.D. Mallard issued the summary judgment on Thursday, striking down Longmont’s ban on fracking.

In the ruling, she said Longmont’s charter amendment clearly conflicted with the state’s regulations and its interest in the efficient development of oil and gas deposits.

“The law regarding preemption of local oil and gas regulation by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act is clear and the court got it right,” said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. “Under the current law, local governments can’t ban fracking.”

Longmont voters approved the ban in 2012; and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, with the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper, wasted little time in filing a law suit to roll it back.

A number of groups including the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Earthworks, and by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, which put the ban on the ballot, joined the city as defendants in the suit.

Longmont is one of five Colorado communities where voters have approved bans or a moratorium on fracking, the commonly used practice by which oil and gas developers inject a pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals deep beneath the ground in order to loosen mineral deposits for extraction.

The issue of how to balance regulations and control by the state, which believes municipalities cannot infringe on the property rights of mineral owners, with the wishes of local communities, increasingly concerned about health risks resulting from drilling and pollution, is yet to be resolved.

Boulder Congressman Jared Polis is continuing to back two ballot initiatives that would give greater control to local governments and quadruple the state’s existing setback rule, sparking what is shaping up to be a nasty campaign fight this fall.

The industry is already waging a campaign to defeat the initiatives and most Democrats including Hickenlooper, who worked to no avail for three months on a legislative compromise around local control that would have avoided the ballot measure fight, oppose them as well.

Polis has until Aug. 4 to turn in the 86,000 signatures needed to put both initiatives on the ballot.

“Perhaps now Congressman Polis will listen to elected officials in both political parties and the business and community groups who have asked him to withdraw his arbitrary and irresponsible ballot initiatives,” said Karen Crummy, a spokesperson for Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, a group formed by local oil and gas operators to fight Polis’ initiatives.

“His efforts to lock inflexible regulations into the state constitution will be a disaster for the economy, private property owners and the local communities who now have the ability  to shape energy regulations to their needs.”

His organization announced Thursday that it has surpassed that number of total signatures but continues to collect more, knowing that they’ll need a buffer because some signatures will be thrown out during a review by the Secretary of State’s office.

“Collecting nearly 100,000 signatures on each measure in just 5 weeks time proves the overwhelming support amongst Colorado voters for commonsense protections against roughshod fracking,” said Mara Sheldon, spokesperson for Safe. Clean. Colorado.

“Coloradans clearly want a balance between responsible energy development and having a safer place for our families to live and our children to play. Now they will have the opportunity to vote on it.”

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17 comments

  • Jerry Rumsey

    And to think Longmont has spent more than $500,000 dollars supporting the ban in courts with nothing in return. I think Longmont could have used that money elsewhere in the community – say a certain bridge taken out by last year’s floods…

  • Joel

    Let’s look at this. 1 week ago, it was reported (another source, Denv bus journal) that they had “just over 65,000”. Now, in this “article” they claim “that it has surpassed that number of total signatures but continues to collect more” So that’s 21k signatures in a week? I believe it’s possible for another repeat of the debacle that happened with amendment 66 where ~46% of the signatures were invalidated. Time will tell.

    • Thomas Debaillon

      When these sort of environmentalist issues come up those who support radical ballot initiatives will use dirty tactics to get their signatures including non voters signing and multiple duplicate signatures. Even if they get the correct number it is likely they’ll be challenged in court over their validity which could be held up in the court for months well past the election.

    • Anonymous

      That’s because everything that comes out of a progressives mouth is just a lie and nothing but that

  • Jim

    The Judge is either close to retirement and can use the income sxupplement or hehas more than one child in college.

  • Asok Smith

    I think the solution is relatively simple here. The need for drilling for fossil fuels could be greatly reduced if everyone opposed to “fracking” and/or drilling for petroleum and/or mining for coal would simply abstain from utilizing any fossil fuel energy for any purpose and use no products made with or by or from fossil fuels. These people could reduce both their petroleum and carbon footprint, and lead by example, proving once and for all that they’re not just ordinary, garden-variety hypocrites who preach “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    I certainly don’t understand why these people who are so opposed to using fossil fuels continue to use them. After all, they’re the very first to boycott lettuce, grapes, Walmart and such for the slightest perceived unfairness.

    So, all of you anti-frackers and anti-drillers and anti-miners, please quit yammering, and whining and finger-pointing and do something positive for a change: quit consuming resources you detest so much. After all, it shouldn’t be that much of a hardship, since you can simply substitute the wind-power and solar power you adore so much that you’ve demanded that hundreds of billion of tax dollars of other peoples’ money be spent “developing” (though I do have to admit I’m not sure exactly how you’ll lubricate the moving parts and insulate your electrical wiring).

    • kickshot

      Go explain your feelings to this family, a 12-yo girl, her mother and her grandmother. They CAN’T QUIT using fossil fuel energy because the byproducts are part of their metabolism. What you are telling them that they should do is just die. Nice of you.

      Phase II: BTEXs Metabolites Results

      VOCs such as ethylbenzene are not just passing through our bodies, they are breaking down and entering our body tissues, proof of chronic exposure.

      The presence of ethylbenzene is what links our contamination to oil & gas drilling. Make no mistake about that. The state knows it. The industry knows it. The medical community knows it. The county knows it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

      This means we are at greater risk for developing cancers than people who do not have VOCs in their bodies. It certainly explains why we are having health problems.
      http://fromthestyx.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/phase-ii-btexs-metabolites-results/

    • Garfield County Resident

      The largest industry getting the most tax dollars is the petroleum industry, clocking in with an estimated 500 billion dollars a year, compared to 88 billions for the global renewable industry. Considering that as of May 2014 there were more jobs in the Solar Industry in the USA than coal mining jobs, the writing is on the wall for the fossil fuel industry, and your comments here are clearly misinformed. As for people boycotting fossil fuels, the same company that makes our astronaut’s spaceships is busy on that right now. As more options come forward for people to leave fossil fuels behind, they will be taken up because they are cheaper and better, AND they don’t destroy our planet in the process. The simmering anger here against named “progressives” is amazing to me here, since we all breathe the same air, we all want a healthy environment to live in and you all also lose money in your property when they frack near your home. The idea that people are signing on to these initiatives to stop fracking in their communities is a sign of how the whole regulatory environment in Colorado is slanted to benefit the drillers and out of state investors more than local residents. Bans would not be on the cards if communities felt protected today with the current legislation. No one’s children should be poisoned for the profit of a company, and since regulations today don’t allow us to know whether or not this is happening, it makes sense to slow things done enough to let the new science speak and get some perspective on a process that seems to pollute our air and water, pollute our politics, and enrich a few at the expense of the many.
      -Garfield County Resident

  • Angela

    Has anyone been to Mead or even Weld County lately? Please drive down Highway 66 from Interstate 25 to the Boulder County Line. Its about a 10 minute drive. If you like what you see, then you have voiced a valid opinion. Until you see what they are doing firsthand, I cannot respect your flip opinions. I live off Hwy 66 in Boulder County and I do not want to see my property values drop bc I am flanked by fracking wells, increased industrial traffic and sound and light barriers, which are also unsightly. This actually threatens the land I live on, so if you do not live here and understand the circumstances, then I suggest you take a drive and ask yourself if you want these wells as close to your house as they are to the houses in Weld County off Hwy 66. These wells and structures tower over communities shadowing children as they ride their bikes to the local park. I live in Longmont, I voted for the ban to protect my property values and the future health of my family. My husband also voted against the ban. I live here and I can assure you, this vote passed easily with strong public support even with the oil companies dumping tons of cash into our little city’s proposition. This is the democratic process in effect and it is getting trampled under the hooves of oil and gas interests. If that doesn’t scare liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and tea parties alike, then this country is farther from its ideals than I thought.

    • Snarky Cosmos

      I live on a block that had a functioning oil well 1/8 of mile from our house. It didn’t bother us or my neighbors. When it was removed a few years ago it was because the well finally ran dry.

      The big bad boogeyman towering ogres are drill rigs. They will go away after they complete their job. Drill rigs are expensive to operate so they only stay in place as long as necessary and then move on. If the well produces, there will be a pump for oil or other low profile equipment for gas.

      I just shake my head when every tree hugger wants to ban fracking and the extraction of oil and natural gas that our modern society run on; yet they come up with no viable alternatives. Oil & natural gas are used for far more things than powering your Prius and heating your homes. If it weren’t for fossil fuels we wouldn’t have wind turbines and solar panels.

      You can bet that every tree hugger that wants everyone to be eco friendly will be the first to whine if they can’t gas up their Prius’, take a hot shower, live in an energy efficient home, spend hours each day on their iPhones, etc.

      As a rural resident who is getting a lesson on mineral rights; part of your complaint can be traced back to Colorado’s government way back when they set up a system where surface rights can be separated from mineral rights. This convoluted system is a result of Colorado’s gold, silver, and other hard rock mining history.

      If you want to live in a drafty shack, ride a horse for transportation, and do without all of the other modern conveniences; then by all means do so.

      • Anonymous

        They were fracking 1/8 a mile from your house or was it just an oil rig? Huge difference bc you don ‘t need the large quantities of water resources and they are not needing to dispose of fracking waste which we also banned in the proposition that passed. Also, I just signed a petition to have Boulder County be home ruled so maybe I will see that on the ballot in Nov. I am not a tree hugger. Frack where you want, but our city voted against it and that should be respected. I am a mother of small children and I care deeply about their water and air quality. I am a homeowner in the city of Longmont trying to protect my property values. I am also a voter.

      • Snarky Cosmos

        The well was existing when I moved into the house.

        Huge amount of water resources…oh come on, people waste more water every day trying to have lush green lawns in a semi-arid environment than fracking will ever use. All wells whether fracked or not require multiple layers of steel and cement in the bore-hole to protect the groundwater, which sits far above any oil and gas deposits. As far as air quality; give me a break, you breathe in more pollutants from normal auto traffic 24/365 than you will from a few days of fracking.

        There is a good reason why state law trumps local law when it comes to these matters as such piecemeal bans and regulations make it all the more difficult for businesses of all kinds to operate in Banorado. The USA has extremely tough environmental standards. China on the other hand could care less about protecting the citizens and environment from industrial processes.

        Little Banifornia’s (aka Boulder County) two favorite words are “ban” and “tax.”

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