On July 24th, Boulder County District Judge Dolores Mallard struck down the Longmont, Colorado ban on hydraulic fracturing. The ban, which was passed in November 2013, amended the city’s charter to prohibit hydraulic fracturing. After some failed negotiations with the state, a suit challenging the law was brought a month later by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. The state of Colorado joined the suit in July 2013. In her ruling, Judge Mallard indicated that the ban was contrary to Colorado law vesting primary regulatory authority over oil and gas operations within the state. She wrote, “There is no way to harmonize Longmont’s fracking ban within the stated goals of the [Colorado] Oil and Gas Conservation Act…the state interest in production, prevention of waste and protection of correlative rights, on the one hand, and Longmont’s interest in banning hydraulic fracturing on the other, present mutually exclusive positions.” In striking down the ban, Judge Mallard cited a 1992 Colorado Supreme Court case which established that while Colorado cities can regulate oil and gas activities, they cannot prohibit drilling outright. Judge Mallard granted the plaintiffs’ requested order enjoining Longmont from enforcing the ban, but placed a stay on the order pending the appeals process.
The defendants in this case, including the city of Longmont, the Sierra Club, and Earthworks Energy Program, intend to appeal the decision. Bruce Baizel, director of Earthworks, said, “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.”
This ruling calls into question several other local bans, as well as several additional local restrictions on the November ballot. The ruling also increases the already intense fight over several state-wide ballot initiatives addressing local preemption.