Judge overturns Lafayette fracking ban

LAFAYETTE – A Boulder County District Court judge has struck down the city of Lafayette’s ban on oil and gas development, the third such decision in the state in a month.

District Judge D.D. Mallard ruled Wednesday that state law preempts a ban on new oil and gas activity passed by voters in November. Mallard also struck down Longmont’s ban on hydraulic fracturing in July, though the city plans to appeal the decision. Larimer County District Judge Gregory Lammons overturned the city of Fort Collins’ moratorium on fracking earlier this month.

The ruling on the Lafayette ban dealt yet another blow to cities that have sought to ban oil and natural gas activity. The court decision comes amid tension over the oil and gas drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing in cities along the Front Range.

Activists have sought to ban fracking, which involves pumping fluid mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground to retrieve oil and gas. The oil and gas industry contends the practice is safe.

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association challenged fracking bans passed by voters in each city by suing all three cities.

In November, Lafayette voters adopted Ballot Question 300, a measure introduced by activists to ban new oil and gas development in the city, as well as storage and transportation of fluid and chemicals used for oil and gas extraction.

“Today’s ruling was unequivocal, with Judge D.D. Mallard saying the operational conflict between the state’s robust framework of regulations and local bans is ‘obvious and patent on its face,'” said oil and gas association President Tisha Schuller in a statement. “I couldn’t agree more, and I hope her ruling ends the activist effort to pass illegal bans against energy development.”

David Williamson, attorney for the city of Lafayette, declined to comment.

Voters in the cities of Boulder and Broomfield also have passed fracking bans. Boulder County commission members also have enacted a moratorium on oil and gas development.

Local governments play an important role in oil and gas regulation, and more than 30 communities statewide have crafted “unique solutions that address their concerns” while following state law, Schuller said.

“The bans have been unnecessary, divisive and costly for taxpayers,” she said. “Now that all three legal cases have been decided, we look forward to putting the ban debate behind us and focusing on meaningful solutions with our communities.”