Colorado Supreme Court Rules Against Cities’ Fracking Bans

This week the Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously against two cities’ bans on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it’s also known. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the group which brought the original lawsuits against the cities of Fort Collins and Longmont, is hailing the decisions as “a win for the energy industry.”

The Colorado Supreme Court framed its rulings not as a decision on the safety of fracking but as an assertion of state law’s authority over local legislation — even if that legislation was formed following successful ballot initiatives.

In 2012, Longmont voters approved the prohibition of any fracking or fracking waste storage within city limits. The next year, Fort Collins residents voted in favor of a similar ban until 2018. Both were struck down in separate rulings. “It’s a blow to democracy and local control,” Rep. Jared Polis says.

In a state where fracking ranks among its most controversial issues, it is hard to not view the Colorado Supreme Court’s unanimous rulings as politically profound.

That’s because, as anti-fracking activists now worry, the Colorado Supreme Court’s actions could have a chilling effect on other cities and municipalities that may have or may seek future bans of their own. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s president and CEO, Dan Haley, even boasts that the rulings send “a strong message” that anti-fracking efforts “will not be tolerated at any level” in Colorado.

In the court’s Longmont ruling, it was explained that local fracking bans do not constitute laws “alleged to concern life, liberty, property, safety or happiness.” If they did, they would override state laws, per Colorado’s constitution.

Despite the court’s assertion, hydraulic fracturing (and, more importantly, the storage of the resulting wastewater) can and will lead to exactly those things — life, property and safety — being endangered. And that’s not fear-mongering or mere speculation: When it comes to the dangers of fracking, the science is in.

As reported on Care2 previously, a crucial Stanford University study on the chemicals used in the fracking process (benzene and xylene) confirmed that they are not only toxic to ingest but that they are likely seeping into water tables to cause permanent damage — confirming what most anti-fracking activists had suspected for years.

Another report came from the US Geological Survey this year, warning that fracking practices have been directly linked to a rise in man-made earthquakes. Seven million Americans are now at risk and several states — including Colorado — are considered newly vulnerable to unnatural tremors.

Then there are other studies showing the incredible environmental damage caused every time a fracking well or gas pipeline pours methane into the atmosphere, as happened recently with the disastrous Porter Ranch leak in California.

How could anyone argue against the evidence at this point?

It’s difficult to say whether it’s money-fueled ignorance or dangerous myopia (or both) propping up Colorado’s fracking boom. Support for fracking does not fall along party lines in the Western state — Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has been a very vocal advocate of shale drilling.

In 2013 Hickenlooper testified before a Senate committee that fracking fluids were perfectly safe; so safe, apparently, that he claims he actually drank fluid provided by Halliburton. However, as they say in this day and age — pictures or it didn’t happen.

With Colorado’s courts and even its Democratic governor apparently throwing their weight behind the fossil fuel industry, the state’s anti-fracking activists are facing an uphill battle. These new rulings make it clear that any success must come in the form of a statewide fracking ban, either through state legislative action or via ballot initiative.