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

Politics
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

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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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