Colorado Supremes Take Up Fracking Bans

DENVER (CN) – Furious opposition from the oil and gas industry defeated two Colorado cities’ attempts to ban fracking, but Fort Collins and Longmont soon will ask the state’s supreme court to overturn the lower courts.
     When Denton, Texas, enacted a similar ban by popular vote, the Legislature reacted quickly by making such local laws illegal.
     Fort Collins and Longmont’s efforts too were smashed by lawsuits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which defeated them in Boulder and Larimer counties.
     Longmont voters banned fracking in 2013 and Fort Collins put a 5-year moratorium on it that year. The state courts agreed with the industry that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission – not cities – regulates drilling.
     Both cities took their cases to the state’s Court of Appeals, and in August the appeals court asked the state supreme court to hear arguments. The supreme court agreed to do so on Monday.
     Both cities and the oil and gas industry appear to consider this an interim victory.
     “Our Longmont is delighted to learn that the Colorado Supreme Court has decided to hear the case involving Longmont’s charter amendment that prohibits hydraulic fracking and the disposal of its waste products with city limits,” said Kaye Fissinger, president of the group Our Health Our Future Our Longmont.
     The Colorado Oil and Gas Association likes its chances.
     “We look forward to the supreme court putting further clarification that the ban implemented in Longmont and that the Fort Collins moratorium are preempted by current law and are thus illegal,” the group said in a statement.
     “We will continue to do the difficult and unsexy work of finding reasonable and workable solutions with our friends and neighbors.”
     Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water and sludge underground at high pressure, to crack rock deposits and free up oil and natural gas for pumping. The technique has greatly increased U.S. oil and gas production, but environmentalists say it can pollute water supplies and even cause earthquakes. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against drillers that use fracking, some of them from people whose tap water became flammable.
     The seven-member court will hear arguments in an oil-friendly state. The oil and gas industry employed 110,000 people in Colorado in 2012, and contributed an estimated $29 billion to the state’s economy. The number of natural gas wells doubled from 2000 to 2010, to more than 43,000. Ninety percent of the state’s new wells use fracking, the Bureau of Land Management estimates.
     The state has also seen some local fracking disasters. In 2013 a broken wellhead near Windsor spewed 84,000 gallons of oil and chemical-laden water into a field, 1,500 feet from the nearest home.
     And fracking has caused bitter disputes, as many property owners do not own mineral rights to their land, allowing drilling companies to do as they wish.
     The Colorado Supreme Court has not yet set a deadline for briefs, nor a date for arguments.

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