Colorado Supreme Court voids Fort Collins fracking moratorium

Diego Felix

(Photo/Wikimedia)
(Photo/Wikimedia)

In a decision that could set precedence for how local governments statewide can regulate natural gas and oil extraction, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium on fracking Monday.

In 2013, Fort Collins voters supported a moratorium within city limits to wtemporarily ban hydraulic fracking, the process in which a stream of sand, water and chemicals is blasted into the earth to break through rock formations and free buried energy reserves. The city of Longmont also had their 2012 ban deemed void.

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The courts ruled that both laws were preempted by state law and in turn, “invalid and unenforceable.”

Prior to the judgements from the Colorado Supreme Court, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association filed suit and won cases against both Fort Collins and Longmont. The two municipalities subsequently appealed the decision and in August the state appeals court requested for the cases to be heard by the Supreme Court.

This ruling added another dimension to the ongoing debate on whether the state or individual municipalities hold the right to set regulations for the gas and oil industry.

For Judy Hannah, Ph.D, professor of geosciences, the decision belongs to legislators at the state level.

“I’m inclined to think it should be a state decision for two reasons: one is that it can bring together a greater expertise to look at the problem,” Hannah said. “If it’s left up to the local communities and every little town around Colorado has to come up with their own set of regulations, that’s asking a lot of local governments; whereas if it could be done at the state level, I think more expertise can be brought to bear.”

“The second thing is that you avoid this patchwork of regulations where you step across a political boundary and suddenly all the rules are different and that makes it very awkward for anyone to stay on top of it, so I think some kind of very careful look from the state level is in order.”

When looked at in isolation, Hannah said there are obvious problems with fracking, among them being that while it has increased the production of oil and gas in the United States, its successes may reduce efforts to find alternative sources of energy.

According to Sven Egenhoff, Ph.D, associate professor of geosciences, when the distance between aquifers and the point of fracking is significant, like it is here in the Denver Basin, the chances of causing a fracture that will affect the aquifer is near zero.

“However, if you screw up an aquifer, you will never be able to fix the problem. Once you mess it up, you’re done,” said Egenhoff.

Geology major Blake Robinson said he would prefer to see the state of Colorado implement a widespread ban lasting longer than what was proposed by the five-year moratorium, until proper tests and studies completely rule out any negative effects from hydraulic fracturing.

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“Sure, allowing more fracking sites will improve our state’s economy while creating jobs for many workers, but I consider these aspects to be short term thinking,” Robinson said. “In my opinion, the future environmental risks outweigh the immediate gratification of drilling without proper recourse.”

Collegian Reporter Diego Felix can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @FMTOturntablist.