• A Larimer County judge overturned Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing Thursday, offering yet another blow to voter-led guidance of Colorado’s oil and gas development concerns.

    It has been a week of dashed hopes for grassroots groups and lawmakers pushing for voter-approved changes on both sides of the oil and gas debate. On Monday, a last-minute deal by Gov. John Hickenlooper resulted in four potential measures being withdrawn from consideration for a statewide vote in November in exchange for the state backing off from a lawsuit over Longmont’s ban on fracking.

    While the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission agreed to scrap its lawsuit against Longmont’s 2012 fracking ban, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association charged ahead with lawsuits against Fort Collins and Lafayette.

    On Thursday, 8th Judicial District Judge Gregory M. Lammons ruled to overturn the moratorium approved by Fort Collins voters last November. COGA, a trade association, filed the civil lawsuit against the city on Dec. 3, 2013.

    MAP: Oil activity centers on Fort Collins’ northern tip

    In the court order issued Thursday, the decision to overturn Fort Collins’ moratorium partly hinged on a 2013 agreement. The ordinance violated a May 2013 operator agreement signed by the city, which allowed former Fort Collins Field owner Prospect Energy, LLC to frack wells in city limits.

    Ultimately, the court declared that the five-year halt to new development violated the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act, initially passed in 1951, which declares that oil and gas activity in Colorado is above all a state priority. Longmont’s ban came up against a similar ruling in Boulder County court.

    MORE: Colorado gas regulators to drop fracking lawsuit against Longmont

    COGA President and CEO Tisha Schuller hailed the court’s decision, saying: “We’re glad that it has been demonstrated that Colorado communities are protected through a combination of strong state regulation and flexible local authority.”

    Opponents of Fort Collins’ moratorium say it was doomed from the start, being pitted against a long history of legal precedents that favored state control over oil and gas development in Colorado.

    “I think it’s clear how the courts are leaning — that they (bans) are illegal in the first place,” said former Fort Collins Mayor Ray Martinez, who campaigned against the moratorium last fall. “And those are the things that we cautioned about. The city shouldn’t even begin to think of trying to fight this.”

    Fort Collins’ moratorium would have stopped new wells from being fracked within city limits for five years, while the city performed a study on the health impacts of fracking. The city had not yet decided what that study would look like.

    MORE: Controversial fracking ballot measures withdrawn

    City officials will have seven weeks from the official filing to decide if it plans to appeal the court’s decision, said Interim City Attorney Carrie Daggett on Thursday.

    “We are disappointed at the outcome,” Daggett said, adding that the city is reviewing the judge’s order and will be considering its options.

    Karen Wagner, with Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, which advocated for the moratorium, echoed Daggett’s thoughts on Thursday. “We are very disappointed,” she said.

    Wells have not been fracked in Fort Collins for at least two years, and there are no pending or issued permits to drill wells within the city limits, COGCC data shows. Still, for groups concerned about the potential impacts of increased oil and gas development in Fort Collins and along Colorado’s Front Range, recent decisions have been dispiriting.

    After the Legislature failed to reach a compromise on new oil and gas regulations this spring, Wagner was looking forward to having issues surrounding oil and gas development put to the state’s voters.

    “The voters have now been stripped of that opportunity,” she said.

    Now that the four ballot measures have been dropped, the governor hopes oil and gas issues will be tackled by an 18-person commission. Formed at the eleventh hour on Sunday night, the commission is still nascent — as of yet, it has two members, La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and XTO Energy President Randy Cleveland.

    Together the chairs will decide on the commission’s members: six politicians and residents, six industry representatives and six “respected Coloradans.” The commission expects to spend the next few months meeting regularly until the legislative session begins in January, when it will ostensibly present recommendations for new laws.


    Posted by Dana West @ 6:38 pm for Colorado politics, Energy |

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