A Colorado town’s voter-approved ban on fracking in residential areas was shot down on Thursday, after a judge sided with an industry lawsuit claiming only the state government has that kind of authority over oil and gas operations.
Colorado District Court Judge D.D. Mallard agreed with the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s lawsuit against the town of Longmont, Colorado. That lawsuit argued that if local governments were able to have control over whether fracking occurred in their neighborhoods, it would be unfair to those who already owned oil and gas underneath those towns.
“The city’s prohibition will have an extraterritorial effect on the development and production of oil and gas,” assistant attorney general Jake Matter wrote when the lawsuit was originally filed in 2012. “The city ban affects the ability of owners of oil and gas that underlie the city’s residential areas … to obtain an equitable share of production profits.”
The debate over fracking — a controversial method of extracting fossil fuels by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles-deep into subsurface rock — has grown substantially in Colorado, with five cities and towns already voting to ban the practice in their area. The communities are fighting for the ability to enact stricter controls on oil and gas development than the state currently allows.
Industry, however, has been quick to sue all five of the communities seeking residential bans, arguing that only the state has the authority to ban drilling, and that Coloradans can not decide to keep it out of their communities.
Of the five, the lawsuit against Longmont is the first decision to come down. But Judge Mallard did leave room for the city to appeal the decision, and local environmental groups have vowed that they will do so.
“It’s tragic that the judge views the current law in Colorado is one in which fracking is more important than public health; reversing that backwards priority is a long-term battle that we’re determined to continue,” Kaye Fissinger, President of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, said in a statement.
At the same time, too, some members of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) are apparently trying to come to a compromise with the towns over the issue of local control. According to an article in Natural Gas Intel, some COGA members support state legislation that would give local governments more regulatory power over fracking, without allowing them to ban drilling activities altogether.
Colorado now has nearly 35,000 oil and gas wells, and in 2013 broke a 60-year-old record for oil production, producing 64 million barrels. The state has also had 495 spills related to oil and gas activities in 2013, according to the Center for Western Priorities, and in 22 percent of those cases there was at least some contamination of water.
Air pollution has also been a significant concern, with a study at the University of Colorado finding that more than half of the pollution tied to ozone is tied to oil and gas production in an area of heavy energy development.