Colorado Justices Nix Local Fracking Bans

     DENVER (CN) – The en banc Colorado Supreme Court struck down fracking bans in the cities of Fort Collins and Longmont, finding state law leaves fracking regulations in the hands of the state, not municipalities.
     The city of Longmont banned hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in 2012, and Fort Collins followed a year later, voting in a five-year fracking moratorium in 2013.
     Both cities argued that they should have jurisdiction over whether companies could use the controversial oil drilling practice in or around their population, as the dangers of groundwater contamination and injuries could put their citizens at risk.
     Fracking, which involves the high-pressure spraying of water and chemicals into the ground to dismantle rock obstructing the path of oil reserves, has proven to sometimes have dangerous consequences.
     In 2014, one worker was killed and two were injured at the Colorado Halliburton fracking site in Weld County after a high-pressure water pipe ruptured.
     A year later, four homes had to be evacuated in Greeley, Colo., when a lightning bolt struck a water tank that started a fire and subsequent explosions that propelled several oil tanks upwards into the air, with one tank landing 60 feet from the fracking site.
     The controversial drilling practice also carries with it a plethora of environmental hazards. The fluid used, which has been found to contain volatile organic compounds that are dangerous to ingest, can leak into a nearby town or county’s drinking water. Pennsylvania in particular has seen several cases of fracking fluid contamination.
     In 2010, residents in Bradford, Pa., found a white, foamy substance coming out of their faucets that was later identified as a fracking foam solution that has been known to cause tumors in rodents.
     Residents in other rural areas of Pennsylvania discovered they could light the water from their faucets on fire due to flammable fracking agents.
     The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, or COGA, sued both Longmont and Fort Collins to challenge their collective fracking bans, and successfully argued that current Colorado regulations give the state sole power over fracking activities.
     Both cities appealed the district court’s decisions, arguing their cases before the Colorado Supreme Court in December.
     On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its final decision, finding that both the ban and the moratorium are “invalid and unenforceable.”
     The state’s high court remained in agreement with the district court’s decision that city-wide fracking bans conflicted with or were preempted by state law.
     The two rulings issued Monday, both written by Justice Richard Gabriel, also expressed concern that the bans might violate the rights of land and mineral owners who possessed oil and gas interests.
     In the opinion regarding Longmont’s ban, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the prohibition of fracking would cause an imbalance in oil and gas production.
     “Such a ban could adversely impact the correlative rights of the owners of oil and gas interests in a common source or pool by exaggerating production in areas in which fracking is permitted while depressing production within Longmont’s city limits,” Gabriel wrote for the en banc high court. “Longmont’s fracking ban could result in uneven and potentially wasteful production of oil and gas from pools that underlie Longmont but that extend beyond its city limits.”
     In the Fort Collins rulings, Gabriel wrote that the five-year moratorium “operationally conflicts with the effectuation of state law” and is preempted by state law.
     COGA President and CEO Dan Haley released a statement on COGA’s website praising the pair of rulings.
     “COGA has always maintained that these bans and moratoriums on responsible oil and gas development are illegal, and we’re pleased that today the Supreme Court of Colorado has agreed with us,” Haley said. “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. It sends a strong message to anyone trying to drive this vital industry out of the state that those efforts will not be tolerated. Bans and moratoriums on oil and gas are not a reasonable or responsible way to address local concerns.”
     Fracking has been a fertile industry for the state of Colorado – which sits on the Niobrara Shale, and has over 40,000 fracking wells.
     A University of Colorado Leeds School of Business study found that over 102,000 Colorado jobs can be attributed to the fracking industry, which generates $7.6 billion a year in revenue. The study also estimated that the fracking industry saved $6.6 million in reduced energy costs.
     Neither city has revealed their next steps after the Colorado Supreme Court decision.

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