The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed decisions by lower state courts to overturn two cities’ fracking bans on May 2, ruling against Fort Collins’ five-year fracking moratorium and a voter-supported ban on hydraulic fracturing in Longmont.
Colorado’s high court called the laws “invalid and unenforceable” and determined state law preempts local ordinances on issues related to fracking and oil and gas production.
Fracking—the widely used practice of injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand, and chemicals underground to break open formations and recover oil and gas—currently accounts for two-thirds of all natural gas production in the United States, according to a new report by the Energy Information Agency.
Fort Collins passed its moratorium on fracking in 2013. Longmont’s ban was enacted in 2012.
Decision ‘Protects Property Rights’
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued the cities in 2014 and won in lower courts, which resulted in the bans being thrown out. COGA argued the fracking bans violate the rights of property owners, threaten local jobs, and deprive state and local governments of tax revenue.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling affirms the lower courts’ decisions, thereby preventing local control of oil and gas development.
Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, says the decision by the state’s highest court protects property rights and will help promote energy development.
“Today’s decision protects private property rights, which are a main driver for the energy renaissance in this country,” said Bentley in a statement.
“The U.S. was counted out as an oil and natural gas superpower, but with states like Colorado leading the way, the U.S. defied the odds to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas and a world leader in crude production,” Bentley said.
Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of Advancing Colorado, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Coloradans love our strong, robust, diverse, and affordable energy portfolio, and we must continue fighting shadowy groups who seek to dismantle our energy sector and endanger our lives,” Lockwood said. “The Supreme Court’s ruling clearly was a battle victory, but the war is not over.”
“The prevailing narrative is the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for the oil and gas industry,” said Amy Oliver Cooke, executive vice president of the Independence Institute. “While that is true, it’s also a narrow and somewhat simplistic view, because this decision represents so much more than that. It’s also a huge victory for private property rights.
“The [Colorado] Supreme Court upheld the rights of property owners, specifically mineral rights owners, over the tyranny of the majority,” Cooke said.
“This decision upholding decades of state law, is a victory for everyone who relies upon fossil fuels in their everyday life,” Cooke said. “Coloradans can take comfort knowing the Court will protect them and the rule of law from a handful of extremist so-called ‘environmentalists’ who were able to gin up fear over a proven [and] safe technology.”
“I’d like to think the threat to our economy and to our energy development industry is over, but, unfortunately, the same groups responsible for these unconstitutional local bans are spearheading ballot measures for this fall,” Cooke warns.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.
Energy Information Administration, “Hydraulically Fractured Wells Provide Two-Thirds of U.S. Natural Gas Production,” May 5, 2016: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/hydraulically-fractured-wells-provide-two-thirds-us-natural-gas-production