Fort Collins has joined Longmont as the only two Colorado cities to ban oil and gas companies from fracking within its city limits.
The Fort Collins City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve an ordinance that would not only ban the controversial drilling method but also prevent oil and gas companies from storing waste materials within city limits. It also repeals a moratorium on the oil and gas permitting processes that was set to expire on July 31, 2013.
The vote was anticipated since Fort Collins officials approved essentially the same measure by an identical vote on first reading two weeks ago. Council members Wade Troxell and Aislinn Kottwitz voted against the ban both times.
Longmont banned fracking in November and was then sued by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association for violating a state law that prohibits municipalities from banning oil and gas operations.
COGA President and CEO Tisha Conoly Schuller said that her organization will most likely sue Fort Collins as well.
“The State Supreme Court has clearly stated that drilling cannot be banned within a city, county, or municipality,” Schuler said a couple hours before the vote. “My experience with people all across Colorado is that we take responsibility for our energy use. A ban is counter to this goal.
“Colorado-produced oil and gas is an important part of the energy that we all require every single day. If not here, then where should your energy be produced?”
Eric Brown, a spokesman in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, echoed Schuller’s comments after hearing about the fracking ban vote.
“The governor takes no joy in suing local government,” Brown said. “As a former mayor, he respects local planning and control. He also has an obligation to uphold the law. The governor wants to be honest with local communities about the state’s legal obligations. Bans like the one passed in Fort Collins violate state law.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that involves injecting fluids consisting of water, sand, and various chemicals under high pressure into shale formations generally found at a depth of 7,000 to 10,000 feet. The fracturing frees up pockets of natural gas and oil that were once thought unattainable.
While the technology of fracturing is not new, it is being used extensively by oil and gas companies in northern Colorado in the mineral-rich Niobrara shale formation.
Critics of fracking say the process could pollute underground water and air near the drilling sites.
That was definitely on the minds of more than 100 people who crammed into the Fort Collins City Council chambers Tuesday night. About 60 of them encouraged the council members to “stand up to the state” and “to put the health of families and children ahead of corporate profits.”
It was a message that was clearly heard by the council members as they prepared to vote.
Councilman Gerry Horak called the ban on fracking “not a shot over the bow, but an issue that has not been dealt with (across the state). This is about local control.”
Horak added he wasn’t worried too much about the possibility of a lawsuit with the state.
“We haven’t been sued yet,” Horak said. “But, I do believe this is a step in the right direction. It’s one we need to take.”
Fort Collins Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Ohlson was equally adamant about not worrying about a possible lawsuit with the state and a run-in with the governor.
“I only have one thing to say to the governor: Quit drinking the fracking Kool-Aid,” Ohlson said to an enthusiastic audience.
Kottwitz, who voted against the fracking ban, admitted there are probably impacts with fracking but “I don’t think this is the way to go about it.”