On Monday, the state’s Supreme Court struck down the ban on fracking that had been approved by Longmont voters in 2012.
According to the court’s opinion, the ban on fracking and disposing of fracking wastes within city limits, conflicts with state law.
“Accordingly, the court holds that Longmont’s fracking ban is preempted by state law and, therefore, is invalid and unenforceable.”
In 2012, voters in Longmont approved Measure 300 which amended the city charter to ban fracking and the disposal of its waste products, including injection wells within city limits.
Governor Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry sued Longmont over the ban and in 2014 a district court judge overturned the fracking ban.
The City Council chose unanimously to appeal the decision, and in 2015 the Colorado Court of Appeals petitioned the state Supreme Court to rule on Longmont’s fracking ban and Fort Collins’ five-year fracking moratorium.
Environmental groups which supported the legal efforts of the City of Longmont in the fracking ban, reacted to the Supreme Court Decision. “Today’s decision deals a devastating blow not just to Longmont residents, but to all Coloradans who have been stripped of a democratic process that should allow us the right to protect our health, safety and property from the impacts of this dangerous industrial activity,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region Director of Food & Water Watch.
The Supreme Court also ruled that Fort Collins’ 5 year moratorium on fracking was also subject to preemption by state law.
Kaye Fissinger, President of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont was one of the leaders of the grass roots movement that lead to the voter approved fracking ban in 2012. She said she is furious at the Supreme Court’s decision.
“What the people got today out of the Supreme Court is a very strong middle finger and I’m actually very livid about that.”
Fissinger says the fight isn’t over and that the focus is now on two state-wide ballot measures. Fissinger is a board member of CREED (Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development.) “We are now collecting signatures for 2 constitutional amendments, one of which would grant local control and it grants it not just to municipalities but to counties as well who as direct extension of the state virtually have no powers. The other one is a mandatory 2500 foot set back. That distance was chosen because there are substantiated scientific studies that say that anyone living closer than a half mile, 2500 is just slightly under that, their health and safety is at risk.”
Fissinger says that they are expecting major opposition from the oil and gas industry with a multi-million dollar campaign, much like the well-funded opposition to the 2012 ballot measure in Longmont. “First they’re going to try and keep them off the ballot and then they’ll try to defeat them when they get off the ballot.”
Fissinger says the Colorado Supreme Court has betrayed the people of Longmont and the people of the state by upholding the demands of the oil and gas industry.
“They do not have the right no matter what they say to damage the people who formed this country, who formed this state.”
Ft. Collins opinion:
Image: Victor Hill
Capitol Coverage’s Bente Birkeland submitted the following report:
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the city of Longmont’s hydraulic fracturing ban and the moratorium in Fort Collins Monday. The state’s highest court said that Longmont’s ban conflicts with state law and is invalid and unenforceable. The court ruled that state law also preempts the moratorium in Fort Collins.
“I think it’s the right move. I’m very appreciative of the fact that the court understands mineral rights are a property right,” said state Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose).
Hydraulic fracturing supporters laud the economic advantages of the process to create jobs, keep energy prices low and allow greater access to oil and gas resources. Opponents worry about the health impacts associated with drilling as energy development moves closer to populated areas along the Front Range.
In the opinions, the justices said they respected the competing views on oil and gas development, and did not question the sincerity and good faith beliefs of any of the parties. The court weighted several factors in making its decision, such as whether oil and gas drilling is a statewide interest. The court determined “we conclude that the need for statewide uniformity favors the state’s interest in regulating fracking.”
Those in the industry praised the decision. The state’s pre-eminent industry group, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, always maintained that fracking bans and moratoriums were illegal.
“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,” said Dan Haley, COGA’s president and CEO, in a statement “It sends a strong message to anyone trying to drive this vital industry out of the state that those efforts will not be tolerated.”
In an emailed statement, Fort Collins’ city attorney, Carrie Daggett, said it’s premature to comment – citing their desire to “carefully and fully evaluate how [the court’s decision] affects the city.” “These issues are complex, and we’ll thoroughly examine the decisions relative to Fort Collins and Longmont,” Daggett’s statement continued. “However, it is clear that the Supreme Court has found that the Fort Collins moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is in operational conflict with Colorado law and is therefore preempted.”
Meanwhile environmental groups and citizen activists called the ruling disappointing saying the court prevents people from protecting their own health and safety.
“This is probably one of the biggest issues effecting constituents and this is a real setback for us,” said state Rep. Jonathon Singer (D-Longmont). “Now we’ve got to move forward and figure out new ways to make sure that this is done responsibly.”
Singer doesn’t feel like the people’s voices were heard in the courts, and he expects more legislative action and potentially taking the question of a fracking ban to voters at the ballot – Initiative 40 backers are already collecting signatures. The initiative seeks to give local governments more authority over energy development. Statewide ballot initiatives were proposed in 2014 but were pulled when Gov. John
Hickenlooper set up a task force to address the issue. Rep. Mike Foote (D- Lafayette) said that task force didn’t address all the problems and has sponsored legislation to try and give cities and towns more control over oil and gas development.
“Local governments and local citizens should have a lot of say of what goes on in their backyards,” he said. Foote went on to add that he doesn’t think the rulings will ultimately change the debate on all the competing interests.
“There’s a lot of room for reasonable regulation of oil and gas development that takes into consideration local concerns that is still something local governments can do under this decision.”
And despite the ruling, the court didn’t agree with the energy industry on everything. The justices upheld the right of cities and towns to also regulate energy development and said that the state did not have “the exclusive authority to regulate the technical aspects of oil and gas operations.”
Republican state Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale sees both sides. He said the Supreme Court’s decisions make sense, because he believes state laws are already stringent and adequate, but he also sympathizes with people who live near energy development.
“We do have to be very careful about industry and urban and suburban development getting closer and closer, I don’t want to take that lightly.” Governor John Hickenlooper also weighed in, saying that he values the court’s guidance on striking the right balance, “We’ll continue to work creatively and energetically with communities and industry to ensure our world-class environment is protected while remaining a place that is welcoming to business and jobs.”