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Fort Collins Passes Fracking Ban, Legal Challenge Looms

Grace Hood

Late Tuesday night, Fort Collins city council members voted 5-2 to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing inside city limits.

The move challenges a statement from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said Colorado will sue any city that bans fracking. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has also hinted at legal action.

Tuesday’s vote came after more than two hours of passionate public testimony. Dozens spoke in favor of the ban.

“The state is not doing enough when it comes to regulation,” said Dave Bell, who like many encouraged Fort Collins to challenge Gov. Hickenlooper’s legal threat. “The citizens of this state should supersede his [Hickenlooper’s] duty to serve the corporations of this state. And who elected him? The oil and gas industry, or the citizens of Colorado?”

Matt Lepore, director of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, was one of few who spoke against the ban.

“I would ask you to work carefully with Prospect Energy. The state is willing to work with you to establish a robust set of rules.”

Despite the fact that two council members voted against the fracking ban, the discussion portion of the evening showed strong support for home rule—i.e., more oil and gas regulation tools for local governments.

Councilmember Aislinn Kottwitz, who along with Wade Troxell voted against the ban, said she was frustrated by the fact that local governments don’t have more leeway to manage drilling and fracking in their communities. But she said banning the practice wasn’t the right approach.

“This isn’t the way to go about it,” she said.

While other council members were more circumspect with their comments, Councilmember Kelly Ohlson had a stronger message.

“I believe the governor should spend his time protecting the health safety and welfare of the citizens of Colorado instead of acting as the chief lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. In fact, I think he should literally quit drinking the fracking kool-aid.”

After the vote, Stan Dempsey with the Colorado Petroleum Association called the new law “a mistake.” That’s despite an exemption in the ordinance for existing oil and gas operator, Prospect Energy.

“We don’t think the courts will uphold this action. It’s a clear taking of someone’s property to not allow them to develop their mineral interest."

Fort Collins follows in the footsteps of Longmont, where voters passed afrackingban last November. Longmont is currently embroiled in two lawsuits. Exactly what type of legal challenge Fort Collins will experience remains to be seen.

Tuesday’s ordinance will become law in 10 days.

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