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Longmont, Fort Collins Fracking Cases Get Their Say In State Supreme Court

Bente Birkeland
Environmental and anti-fracking groups held a rally outside the Colorado Supreme Court prior to Wednesday's hearing on two key fracking lawsuits.

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether local cities in Colorado can either ban hydraulic fracturing or declare a moratorium. The chamber was filled with a who’s who in the energy world, from policy experts and state and city officials, to top attorneys and environmental activists, highlighting the importance of the cases.

“We’re very, very, serious about not wanting fracking anywhere near us,” said Kaye Fissinger with Our Longmont. She helped spearhead the ballot campaign which Longmont voters passed in 2012. “It was a landslide victory 60 to 40 percent. The people spoke. And the people should be heard.”

The seven justices heard an hour of arguments on the Longmont case, along with an hour of arguments on the five-year fracking moratorium passed by the city of Fort Collins.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the energy industry, along with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association are suing the city of Longmont over the ban. They argue that prohibiting what the state allows violates the Colorado constitution.

“Hoping the state Supreme Court brings clarity to the issue of the boundaries between state regulation of oil and gas and the local land use authority to regulate around oil and gas,” said Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC. “We did prevail in the district court, both district courts invalidated the bans.”

Daniel Kramer, the Assistant City Attorney for Longmont argued that the ban doesn’t prevent oil and gas drilling, just fracking, and that state law doesn’t expressly authorize fracking in statute. During questioning Justice Richard L. Gabriel said Colorado heavily regulates fracking, which implies that there is a state interest in fracking.

In the case of Fort Collins, attorney Barbara Green argued that it’s in the state’s interest for local communities, to stop, look and see what the impacts may be. She said the moratorium has not impeded energy development because no companies are applying for permits or developing there. The attorney for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association disputed that claim arguing that of course they’re not applying because of the moratorium, which he counters is effectively a ban.

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Sam Schabacker with Food and Water Watch speaks in favor of the city of Longmont's fracking ban. He helped organize the ballot campaign and said local communities have the right to ban the practice.

A final decision is expected mid-way into 2016. The state and the oil and gas industry want the state Supreme Court to uphold the lower court rulings. Meanwhile, the cities are hoping the cases get sent back to the district court for a trial, so they have a chance at proving that a ban or moratorium doesn't materially impede the state’s interest.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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