The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Monday that state law trumps two cities' attempts to stem the domestic fracking boom, issuing "a severe slap in the face" to Coloradans and local democracy alike.
The court heard cases from Longmont, where voters banned the oil and gas drilling practice in 2012, and Fort Collins, where voters approved a 5-year moratorium in 2013. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group that brought the suits against both cities, argued that the fossil fuel-friendly state clearly regulates fracking, and the cities can't forbid a practice that the state allows.
According to the Denver Post:
The court ruled that Fort Collins' five-year moratorium within the city limits is "a matter of mixed state and local concern and, therefore, is subject to preemption by state law. Applying well-established preemption principles, the court further concludes that Fort Collins's moratorium operationally conflicts with the effectuation of state law."
It said the same in Longmont's 2012 ban on fracking.
"The Oil and Gas Conservation Act and the Commission's pervasive rules and regulations ... convince us that the state's interest in the efficient and responsible development of oil and gas resources includes a strong interest in the uniform regulation of fracking," the court wrote in the Longmont ruling.
"The Colorado Supreme Court has now ruled that corporate polluters' profits outweigh the will of Coloradans who have said 'no' to fracking and 'yes' to a safe environment for their communities."
—Michael Brune, Sierra Club
In other words, said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, "The Colorado Supreme Court has now ruled that corporate polluters' profits outweigh the will of Coloradans who have said 'no' to fracking and 'yes' to a safe environment for their communities."
Citing a slew of peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking and shale gas development, many of which point to potential health risks, water contamination, and air pollution associated with the practice, environmentalists responded to the ruling with dismay.
"It is beyond comprehension that the Colorado Supreme Court still fails to recognize the rights of people to live in a safe and healthy environment," said Kaye Fissinger, president of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. "The state has declared that fostering oil and gas development is in its interest. That the court apparently equates a government interest superior to human rights is a severe slap in the face. Our country's founding fathers are most certainly turning over in their graves."
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Added Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region director with Food & Water Watch: "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."
Indeed, the Longmont Times-Call noted:
The Colorado Supreme Court's decision will have a broad effect on other Colorado cities and counties with their own fracking bans and moratoria.
Both the city of Boulder and Boulder County have moratoria in place on oil and gas applications. Broomfield has a five-year moratorium on fracking and faces a Colorado Oil and Gas Association lawsuit, just like Fort Collins.
Still, CBS Denver reports, "the courts may not have the final say...Fracking critics hope to get at least five measures on the November ballot to amend the state Constitution to restrict the industry or allow local governments to do so."
The Denver Business Journal reported in April that "Supporters of a ballot proposal to expand Colorado’s existing buffer zones surrounding oil and gas operations from 500 feet to 2,500 feet, a move that if approved by voters would ban drilling across a wide area of the state, can start gathering the 98,492 valid signatures needed to be on the 2016 ballot."
Karen Dike, a leader of that effort, declared in December: "We're stalemated in the legislature, we know that the governor is continuing to support suing against bans and moratoriums, the COGCC [Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission] isn't doing anything to protect the citizens, and the citizens need a way to defend themselves and get some of the fracking away from the homes and schools—and that's what we're doing."