Colo. city's fracking ban sets off opposition in neighboring town

Posted: Nov 16, 2012

Written by

BOBBY MAGILL, Coloradoan/EnergyWire
Fracking in Colo

On Election Day, voters in Longmont, Colo., approved by a nearly 20 percent margin a ballot measure banning hydraulic fracturing (EnergyWire, Nov. 7). Despite the oil industry's $500,000 campaign against Question 300, the measure's passage signaled an overwhelming rebuke of hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

That message is reverberating in Fort Collins, a city to the north of Longmont, where residents and elected officials are concerned northern Colorado's oil and gas boom could soon arrive on their own doorstep and destroy its air, water and quality of life.

"The message sent by the voters in Longmont is loud and clear -- their citizens do not want fracking in their town, and I imagine the citizens of Fort Collins won't want it here, either," said Fort Collins City Councilwoman Lisa Poppaw.

The Fort Collins City Council is expected to pass its own oil and gas regulations next month. A draft set of regulations requires future drillers to at least comply with state rules allowing drilling and fracturing to take place within 350 feet of homes and businesses. Or, if companies choose, they can abide by more restrictive drilling standards in exchange for a faster permitting process that bypasses a public hearing.

"I expect some citizens to call for a ban in Fort Collins; and with the recent decision in Longmont, our City Council must surely consider that an option here," said Todd Simmons, a founder of the group Don't Frack the Fort. "We want to trust our elected officials to do the right thing to protect our health, environment and economy. If citizens do not think that is happening, they will respond with increased vigor, passion and determination."

Eric Brown, speaking on behalf of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), said fracturing must be conducted safely, but it must be regulated at the state level to avoid the creation of a mire of competing local drilling rules. He said Longmont's vote will not affect the state's current lawsuit against the city, which says the COGCC is the only Colorado entity that has the power to regulate oil and gas drilling (EnergyWire, Nov. 9).

"Disappointed" in the outcome in Longmont, Colorado Oil and Gas Association spokesman Doug Flanders said he expects another lawsuit to be filed against Longmont by either the state or those who own minerals underneath the city. Those individuals could stand to make money by selling their mineral rights to drilling companies.

"Are taxpayers of Longmont prepared to provide fair compensation to all of the oil and gas leaseholders in Longmont?" Flanders asked.

Bans on fracturing raise another question, he added: "If not here, then where?"

Geologists say oil and gas companies are unlikely to come to Fort Collins now, but advances in drilling technology could make it possible in the future.

City Councilman Ben Manvel said Fort Collins needs to be prepared.

"Given the outcome of the vote in Longmont, I'm starting to think if we're trying to represent the people, that maybe such regulations should be brought forward as mandatory rules in Fort Collins rather than optional," he said. That "would put us in a legal collision course with the state, but I think that people at the state level do pay some attention to public sentiment and might just see where this is going and not fight us but follow our lead to strengthen their regulations."

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