Colorado Fracking Bans Face Uncertain Future

Challenges at the municipal level in Colorado have raised questions about the ability of the state to regulate drilling in “home rule” localities.  Residents of Lafayette, CO filed a suit against the state, Governor John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in an effort to enforce the town’s ban on fracking. As RT reports:

“The class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Boulder County District Court comes in response to a separate suit filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) in December that seeks to negate Lafayette’s ban on new oil and gas extraction in the city. Sixty percent of Lafayette voters supported the measure to curb hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in November.

Lafayette residents Ann Griffin and Cliff Wilmeng, of the anti-fracking organization East Boulder County United, filed the suit that is seeking to dismiss COGA’s December lawsuit while calling for the protection of citizens’ right to self-governance pursuant to local laws and statutes.”

This lawsuit comes on the heels of Governor Hickenlooper’s efforts to modify state drilling regulations in order to make municipalities largely unable to pass bans on fracking. Last week, Hickenlooper reached an initial agreement with Congressman Jared Polis in an effort to protect local rights to govern fracking but not outright ban the practice. Polis has agreed to withdraw political and financial support for local anti-fracking measures if the bill is passed.

“The draft bill, obtained by The Colorado Statesman, would allow local governments to regulate noise and impose setbacks. Jurisdictions would also be allowed to conduct inspections and enact health and safety standards separate of the state.

The measure is considered a compromise because it would also allow oil and gas companies to appeal local government mandates, and it would only allow local governments to impose a moratorium on oil and gas activities ‘for an amount of time that is reasonably necessary to facilitate informed decision-making and planning…the length of such moratorium shall not be arbitrary or excessive.'” Read more about Hickenlooper’s proposal in The Colorado Statesman.

At least eleven initiatives to give municipalities more control over oil and gas laws could be featured on the state-wide ballot in November. These measures, reports the New York Times, are just what Hickenlooper is hoping to neutralize by passing a state-wide law that takes fracking bans off the table:

If they make the ballot in November, an array of proposals will be among the first in the nation to ask a state’s voters to sharply limit energy development. Some measures would keep drilling as far as a half-mile from Colorado homes. Others would give individual communities the right to ban fracking.

The ballot measures reflect the anxieties that have accompanied a drilling boom across the West. As drilling sites are built closer to playgrounds and suburban homes in communities along Colorado’s northern plains, residents and environmental groups have called for more regulation and have pushed for moratoriums on drilling.

But in a bellwether state like Colorado, where views on drilling vary as much as the geography, the measures could ignite an all-out battle involving oil companies, business groups and conservationists that pulls in millions in outside money, sets off a rush of campaign ads and spawns lawsuits for years to come. That is why Gov. John W. Hickenlooper and other Democratic leaders are working feverishly on a compromise that would give communities more control of energy development in their backyards while keeping the fracking issue off the ballot.

The proposal, which is supported by companies Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc., has already received pushback even as Hickenlooper attempts to garner support for the measure in an upcoming special session of the state legislature:

NPR’s KUNC reports that “State House Minority Leader Brian Del Grosso of Loveland said he’s reluctant to back the bill, as Colorado already has strong oil and gas rules.

‘We have some of the strictest oil and gas regulations in the country,’ Del Grosso said. ‘We started disclosing what was in fracking fluid. Now, we’re the first state in the country to regulate methane gas.'”

Meanwhile, in Boulder County, commissioners have delayed a vote to reconsider the county’s moratorium on issuing drilling permits for oil and gas. The deadline, which has been extended several times, is set to expire on January 1. The Daily Camera reports that local challenges to state drilling laws have contributed to commissioner’s indecision:

Commissioners Cindy Domenico, Elise Jones and Deb Gardner said that in the months between now and November, the county may get more clarity — either from a potential special state legislative session or in voters’ decisions on one or more initiatives that may wind up on this fall’s general election ballot — about how much local control over oil and gas operations the state’s lawmakers and voters are willing to grant Colorado’s cities and counties.