Fracking supporters salute court ruling

Judge said health concerns don't override state's interest

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A recent court decision on hydraulic fracturing is leaving supporters of the big-money drilling practice hopeful that the momentum of the contentious debate is now in their favor.

A Boulder County District Court judge on July 24 struck down Longmont's ban on fracking, which voters there put in place during the 2012 election.

“While the Court appreciates the Longmont citizens' sincerely-held beliefs about risks to their health and safety, the Court does not find this is sufficient to completely devalue the State's interest,” District Judge D.D. Mallard wrote in her ruling.

Mallard determined that Longmont's fracking ban conflicts with state rules and limits Colorado's interest in developing oil and gas opportunities.

The judge stayed her decision, pending appeal. The City of Longmont plans to appeal the ruling on its ban on fracking, a process by which water and chemicals are blasted deep underground to free up trapped oil and gas.

Supporters of the multibillion-dollar fracking industry point to the ruling — and a recent narrow rejection by Loveland voters to implement a moratorium on fracking — as evidence of momentum.

“I think that it's a good start,” said state Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

McNulty is a fracking supporter who is behind a ballot initiative that would prohibit communities that ban fracking from receiving revenues that are collected from those that welcome the practice.

“There's going to be a lot of legal maneuvering ... If they appeal, then we'll head down that road. If they don't, we have a very good precedent in place,” McNulty said.

Fracking has developed into one of the more polarizing and complicated issues in the state. Supporters of the practice point to job creation and the $30 billion that is pumped into the state through drilling.

Opponents have serious concerns that fracking could impact public health and the environment.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper recently called off efforts to reach a legislative compromise on fracking issues. The effort was undertaken in hopes that lawmakers could craft legislation that would prevent fracking ballot initiatives from moving forward.

In addition to pro-fracking measures like the one McNulty is supporting, anti-fracking initiatives could end up being on the ballot this November. They include efforts to allow communities greater control over drilling — a measure dubbed the “Environmental Bill of Rights” — and a measure that would require wells to be placed at least 2,000 feet from occupied dwellings. That effort that would essentially ban fracking in Colorado, oil and gas industry supporters claim.

Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry oppose the ballot initiatives, which are being financially driven by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat who has big support from those who are against fracking.

A Polis spokesman declined to comment on the court's ruling.

Bruce Baizel of the Earthworks Energy Program, a group that supported the Longmont ban, expressed optimism, in spite of the court's ruling.

“This decision means two things,” said Baizel. “The judge has invited us to seek the change we need either through the higher courts or the legislature. We fully intend to pursue the former on appeal while the latter underscores the need for the citizens of Colorado to get out and support the Environmental Bill of Rights ballot measure this fall.”

But Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, a pro-fracking group, said the judge's decision should prove to anti-fracking advocates like Polis that the fracking facts are not on their side.

“Perhaps now Congressman Polis will listen to elected officials in both political parties and the business and community groups who have asked him to withdraw his arbitrary and irresponsible ballot initiatives,” Crummy said. “His efforts to lock inflexible regulations into the state constitution will be a disaster for the economy, private property owners and the local communities who now have the ability to help shape energy regulations to their needs.”