Judge quashes Fort Collins’ fracking ban

FORT COLLINS – A Larimer County District Court judge has struck down Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, dealing the second blow in a month to Front Range cities that have sought to ban the drilling technique.

Larimer District Judge Gregory Lammons in a nine-page opinion issued Thursday ruled in favor of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association in its lawsuit challenging a fracking ban passed by Fort Collins voters in November. The temporary ban was meant to be in place while the effects of oil and gas development on human health were studied.

“The five-year ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing within the boundaries of the City of Fort Collins is preempted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act for two reasons: the five-year ban substantially impedes a significant state interest and the ban prohibits what state law allows,” Lammons said in his decision.

City of Fort Collins officials had defended the city’s moratorium as different from Longmont’s fracking ban, while the Oil & Gas Association contended the fracking ban broke state law. Fracking involves pumping water mixed with sand and chemicals into a drilled hole to retrieve oil and natural gas from shale deep underground.

“Today was yet another clear and unequivocal victory for Coloradans and for the strong, robust and vibrant system of oil and gas regulations in our state,” Oil and Gas Association President Tisha Schuller said in an email statement.

The decision followed Boulder County District Judge D.D. Mallard’s ruling two weeks ago striking down the city of Longmont’s fracking ban. That case was separate from the lawsuit related to Longmont’s fracking regulations that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission dropped Thursday.

Schuller noted that unlike in Longmont, where Mallard stayed the case while the city weighs an appeal, Lammons dismissed Fort Collins’ fracking ban outright.

“The message is unmistakable,” Schuller said. “Colorado’s communities through tough state regulations and flexible local authority already have the tools and ability to regulate oil and gas activity to meet their local needs.”

Carrie Daggett, interim city attorney, said the city was disappointed in the outcome of the case, but had not decided whether to appeal the decision. The city will consult with Sullivan Green Seavy LLC, the law firm with offices in Boulder and Denver that it hired to help defend the fracking ban, on whether to appeal.

“We’re in the process of reviewing the order,” she said. “We will have to evaluate the pros and cons of appealing, and we’ll take some time to do that.”

Voters also have passed fracking bans in Lafayette, Boulder and Broomfield.

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