The timing of the three-day summit at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver was appropriate, given two proposals that could be approved or rejected for the November ballot as early as next week.
One proposal would allow local governments to overstep the state’s regulatory authority to enact stringent rules, including bans on fracking.
The second proposal would increase setbacks of wells from schools, hospitals and homes from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.
The industry has said that effort would put 95 percent of land in the top five oil-and-gas-producing counties in Colorado off limits. La Plata County would become almost completely barred from development, as 99.6 percent of land would be prohibited.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, supports fracking, and he has concerns with the two ballot proposals. In 2014, he struck a deal that kept initiatives off the ballot. The compromise was that a task force would meet to address the local control issue.
But the task force largely fell short in the eyes of industry opponents. The rule that came out of it requires operators to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities. But it did nothing to extend powers to local governments.
The Colorado Supreme Court in May ruled that state power trumps local rules and regulations, which has caused some local governments – including Boulder County – to re-examine moratoriums on oil and gas development.
But with groups continuing to push ballot proposals, the issue has so far not gone away.
Hickenlooper believes education and stakeholder processes have quelled some concerns. He doubts proponents will make the ballot this year, as groups submitted about 100,000 signatures per proposal to the secretary of state’s office. It takes 98,492 valid signatures to make the ballot, so there’s not much of a cushion.
“People get so swept up in the emotion of the moment and carried away by some image, or a fact, that turns out not to be a fact,” Hickenlooper said while speaking during a panel discussion at the summit. “What we should spend a lot of time trying to do is make sure the right information is out there…
Federal regulations and politics
Even if the state enacts its own standards, much of the burden falls on federal regulators, which has tied into elections and politics.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce floated a report at the energy summit that stated that a ban on energy production on federal lands would cost Colorado 50,000 jobs, $124 million in annual royalties and $8.3 billion in gross domestic product.
Former Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders forced Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party further to the left on the oil and gas issue, moving them closer to a “keep it in the ground” platform.
The Clinton campaign says it is not pushing for a ban, just that “our long-term goal should be no extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”
Proposals include reforms to fossil fuel leasing, a continued review of the federal coal program, prohibitions on development in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, raising royalty rates and ensuring that new leasing accounts for the clean energy market.
In Colorado, the business world is concerned about the transition…
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, took a more middle-of-the-road approach.
“Colorado truly is a state that can embrace all energy sources …” Bennet said. “Colorado is particularly well positioned to have these markets because of industry-led efforts to protect Colorado’s air and water.”
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
This guide is intended for water providers and community members interested in learning more about water quality protection during oil and gas develop- ment. The information contained in this guide is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is intended to be up to date as of the time of publication, but likely will not remain current over the passage of time. This guide is not a substitute for a consultation with an attorney licensed in Colorado or your jurisdiction who can properly advise you regarding your specific situation.
This report is a collaborative effort by the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, the Colorado Rural Water Association, AirWaterGas and Western Resource Advocates. The lead authors of the report are Matt Samelson and Matt Sura. Kathryn Mutz (Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project), Dylan Eiler, Paul Hempel, Tom Wall, and Colleen Williams (Colorado Rural Water Association), and Joan Clayburg and Laura Belanger (Western Resource Advocates) are the review editors. We would like to thank John Duggan and Dave Rogers from the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, Mike Paules, Regulatory Advisor at WPX En- ergy, and Mark O’Meara, Town of Carbondale Utilities Director for their assistance and review of this document. Their experience and thoughtful suggestions improved the quality of this report. We would also like to thank Matt Schechter of the University of Colorado Boulder Of ce for Outreach and Engagement for design of this guide. The authors take full responsibility for any mistake found in this report, and the review of this document by the above entities does not imply their agreement with or endorsement of the concepts, analysis, methodologies, or conclusions of this report. Funding for this report was provided in part by Western Resource Advocates and by a CU Outreach and Community Engagement grant to the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.
Galeton was slated to go east of Ault and south of Colo. 14, but during the lengthy permitting process, a landowner in the area ended up leasing to Noble Energy.
Now there are 24 active wells on the site.
“You can’t fault the landowner, if somebody’s going to come in and offer (them) money,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water Conservancy District, which acts as the project’s lead agency.
Now the organization has to decide: mitigate or move.
“It can get mitigated,” Werner said. “We can cap those wells.”
But it will be expensive and difficult. In some areas moving might be the more difficult choice, but it’s looking as though that isn’t the case for the Galeton reservoir.
“(There’s) a very similar site across (Colorado) Highway 14 to the north,” Werner said. “And it doesn’t have 24 oil and gas wells in the footprint.”
More coverage from Jacey Marmaduke writing for the Fort Collins Coloradan:
To mitigate contamination risk, wells on the proposed reservoir site would need to be plugged according to state regulations, said Ken Carlson, an environmental engineering professor at Colorado State University.
“As long as they do what (the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) says, there’s not a risk,” Carlson said. “There’s over a million wells drilled in this country. This is not a new situation.”
The plugging process is highly regulated and basically involves inserting huge plugs — at least 100 feet long and usually made of cement — into the drilled hole of the well. The top of the well is then sealed and covered with dirt. Carlson said the process cancels out any risk of contamination, although some research suggests that abandoned wells emit small amounts of methane.
However, plugging a well can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 15 communities and water districts signed on to use the additional water stored by NISP would probably have to foot the bill, and the costs wouldn’t stop there.
If the wells haven’t reached the end of their useful lives by the time construction of the reservoir begins, Noble could reasonably demand additional reimbursement for plugging them, Carlson said. Noble Energy representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The wells were built in 2010 or later, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. The average lifespan of an oil and gas well in the Weld County area is about 11 years, according to data analysis by Colorado Public Radio. So although the construction timeline for Galeton is several years away — assuming NISP gets federal approval and wins the court battle that would almost assuredly come after — construction could prompt closure of the wells before they’re done producing.
Werner said the decision to move the proposed reservoir location remains up to the project participants.
Here’s the release from the University of Cincinnati (M.B. Reilly):
Methane comes from various sources, like landfills, bacterial processes in water, cattle and fracking. In testing methane sources at three national sites, University of Cincinnati geologists found no evidence fracking affected methane concentrations in groundwater in Ohio. At sites in Colorado and Texas, methane sources were found to be mixed, divided between fracking, cattle and/or landfills.
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati recently studied the sources of methane at three sites across the nation in order to better understand this greenhouse gas, which is much more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide.
The UC team, led by Amy Townsend-Small, assistant professor of geology, identified sources for methane in Carroll County, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; and Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, by means of an analysis technique that consists of measuring carbon and hydrogen stable isotopes (isotopic composition). This approach provides a signature indicating whether methane is coming from, say, natural gas extraction (fracking), organic/biologic decay, or the natural digestive processes of cattle.
Said Townsend-Small, “This is an analysis technique that provides answers regarding key questions as to specific sources for methane emissions. With isotopic composition analysis, it’s possible to tell whether the source is fracking or biogenic processes (like bacterial decomposition in landfills or algae-filled water). It’s a laborious technique to implement, but its use makes it possible to trace and attribute the source of methane production.”
MONITORING FRACKING IN COLORADO AND TEXAS
In the Denver Basin, which encompasses the city of Denver and the surrounding region, Townsend-Small and her team examined about 200 methane samples in 2014, collecting airborne measurements via aircraft as well as measuring methane levels on the ground, site by site.
Collection efforts focused on both atmospheric data and ground-level, site-specific samples in order to help ensure accuracy via cross checking of results.
In the Denver region, the isotopic composition signatures of the samples collected demonstrated that up to 50 percent of methane emissions in the region were from agricultural practices (cattle) and/or landfill sources, with the other half (about 50 percent) coming from fracking for natural gas.
From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via CBS Denver:
Fewer than 5 percent of the region’s water wells that were checked for methane pollution had been tainted by oil and gas leaks, according to a study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
About 18 percent had methane that came from coal seams that underlie the area, the researchers said.
The other wells either had methane that couldn’t be definitively traced or had no detectable methane at all…
“I think it’s important for people to realize that being able to light your tap water on fire in many cases is a natural occurrence,” said Owen Sherwood, lead author of the study and a research associate at the University of Colorado.
“However, accidents do happen, leaks do happen,” he said.
The study looked only at the Denver-Julesburg Basin, an energy-rich formation in northeastern Colorado. The findings don’t necessarily apply to other formations because of differences in geology, drilling history and regulation, Sherwood said.
The $12 million study was funded by the National Science Foundation and got no money from the energy industry, Sherwood said.
Sherwood and five other researchers reviewed public records from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state’s energy regulator, from 1988 to 2014.
The records showed that 924 individual water wells were tested for methane after residents complained about pollution. Of those wells, 593 had detectable levels of methane, including 169 with methane that could be traced to coal beds and 42 with methane that could be traced to oil and gas production.
Researchers can distinguish between the two because they have distinct chemical footprints, Sherwood said. Methane from oil and gas production is also mixed with ethane, propane and butane, he said.
If the study couldn’t determine the source of the methane, it was usually because regulators hadn’t finished their investigation at the time the researchers retrieved the data in 2014, or because the case was so old that the available technology couldn’t identify the source.
Regardless of the source, the methane gets into water wells by first infiltrating an aquifer, a natural underground water reservoir, Sherwood said. It’s then drawn up into the well.
Researchers were able to trace groundwater methane pollution to a leak in a specific oil or gas well in 11 instances. In each case, the culprit was the surface casing — the lining inside the upper part of the well bore — in an older petroleum well drilled under now-obsolete rules, Sherwood said.
In all 11 instances, the well casing was too shallow by current standards for new wells. Six of those wells also had leaks in the casings.
The current rules, adopted in the mid-1990s, require the surface casing to extend 50 feet below the deepest aquifer in some areas. In the Denver-Julesburg Basin, that can be as deep as 1,200 feet, Sherwood said.
In none of those 11 instances could the leak be attributed to hydraulic fracturing, Sherwood said. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, injects water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to break open underground formations and release oil and gas.
In 2010, drilling companies began high-volume fracking, injecting the fluids perhaps 20 times at different locations in the same well, compared with three or four times under previous practice, Sherwood said.
But the number of documented incidents of water wells polluted by methane from oil and gas production each year didn’t change, he said.
“It’s relatively rare, a rate of about two cases a year” since 2000, Sherwood said.
Rob Jackson, an earth sciences professor at Stanford University who wasn’t involved in the research, said he thinks the study is sound, although he said a potential weakness is whether water sampling techniques were consistent over the years covered.
“I still like what they’ve done,” he said. The study highlights the importance of oil and gas well casing, he said.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, is the latest to pinpoint the sources and pathways of methane reported in residential drinking water near drilling sites, a concern to many communities as the fracking boom has spread across the country.
Environmental activists have asserted that fracking opens fissures underground along which methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, migrates from fossil fuel reservoirs into aquifers. Industry has maintained that residents’ water already contained methane before oil and gas activity began.
The Colorado study builds on several others published in the last few years, examining water from Texas to Pennsylvania. They all indicate methane can bleed from oil and gas wells if the metal casings inside the wellbore are not cemented completely or sealed deep enough underground.
“The bottom line here is that industry has denied any stray gas contamination: that whenever we have methane in a well, it always preexisting,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University, who read the paper but was not involved in the study. “The merit of this is that it’s a different oil and gas basin, a different approach, and it’s saying that stray gas could happen.”
All 11 wells with barrier failure were drilled before 1993 and did not undergo high-volume fracking and horizontal drilling. Further, they were not subject to new regulations adopted by Colorado in 1993 that set more stringent standards for cement casings inside new oil and gas wells.
Colorado’s adoption of tougher well-construction standards does not reflect national practices, however. Because Congress banned national regulation of fracking under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, standards for water and air protection around oil and gas sites vary by state.
There are also no laws governing the kind of cement that should be used. The cement used to hold the casings in place has to be “competent,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a visiting scholar at Stanford University and retired scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency. Petroleum engineers who work for the drilling company test the cement in a well and determine whether the seal is durable. But not every well is tested.
Industry has resisted efforts to standardize testing of the cement bond in fracked wells. The Bureau of Land Management’s draft fracking rules, recently struck down by a federal appeals court, call for testing the cement in fracked wells. The oil and gas industry has argued that it would be prohibitively expensive, estimating that would cost 20 times greater than the federal government has estimated.
Ensuring the integrity of the wellbore casing and cement job “isn’t a technical issue but a financial issue,” DiGiulio said. “The petroleum industry knows this technology but it’s not done on every single well, and that gets down to cost.”
Here’s the release from the University of Colorado:
The rate of groundwater contamination due to natural gas leakage from oil and gas wells has remained largely unchanged in northeastern Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin since 2001, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study based on public records and historical data.
The results also suggest that microbially-generated methane, rather than high-volume hydraulic fracturing, is the primary source of dissolved methane present in the area’s groundwater. Old and faulty oil and gas wells contribute a smaller percentage, with the risk of groundwater contamination due to a leak estimated to be between 0.12 percent of all the water wells in the region to 4.5 percent of the water wells that were tested.
Oil and gas development — particularly the introduction of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracking — has generated public concern in Colorado over potential groundwater contamination due to the possibility of leakage from oil and gas wells. When present, natural gas can turn drinking water flammable, a safety hazard observed in numerous historical cases.
The researchers sifted through over 25 years of publically-available historical information in order to determine the sources and occurrence rate of methane and other gases in groundwater. All of the data were sourced exclusively from open records maintained by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a regulatory division of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
The study was funded entirely by the National Science Foundation’s AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network, which is based in Boulder, Colorado.
“The ability to do this kind of far-reaching impact study using public domain data is key,” said Owen Sherwood, a research associate with the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at CU Boulder and lead author of the new research. “This study highlights the immense value of a large, continuously updated and publically accessible geochemical database maintained by a regulatory agency.”
In data dating back as far as 1988, dissolved methane was discovered in 523 of the 924 water wells sampled, a rate of about 64 percent. However, based on a geochemical analysis, the researchers determined that 95.5 percent of that methane was generated by naturally-occurring microbial processes, a result of proximity to shallow coal seams criss-crossing northeastern Colorado.
Aside from the microbial methane, oil and gas wells have been found to leak methane and other natural gases such as propane and butane due to faulty or unsuitably shallow surface casings. Older gas wells built as far back as the 1970s were typically cased to a depth of approximately 300 feet, leaving the state’s deepest water aquifers unprotected from potential gas leaks. Updated regulatory standards have since required that new wells be cased far deeper and a number of older wells are currently being repaired.
Between 2001 and 2014 (the last year of complete data), dissolved gas that could be directly linked to deep oil- and gas-bearing formations affected 42 water wells in 32 separate incident cases, a rate of about two cases per year. That rate did not change after the introduction of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state in 2010. Eleven of those cases could be linked to older, vertical wells drilled before 1993. The remaining 21 cases were either settled privately with the landowner, or remain unresolved due to lack of data.
“This study incorporates a tremendous amount of hard data, but also considers individual case narratives so that we can see what happened in each particular instance of natural gas contamination,” said Joseph Ryan, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at CU Boulder and a co-author of the new study. “It’s important to remember the human impact of this issue across the state.”
The new research is believed to be the most comprehensive study to date on the prevalence and sources of groundwater methane in Colorado using only public data. Previous studies have sampled fewer oil and gas sites and/or relied on data provided by industry stakeholders.
From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
Colorado’s battle over who should regulate fracking — and how much — now shifts to the November election after the state Supreme Court overturned attempts by local governments to impose their own rules.
The court ruled Monday that a ban on fracking in Longmont and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins are invalid because they conflict with state law. State officials and the industry argued the state has the primary authority to regulate energy, not local governments.
It wasn’t the end of the debate, however. Coloradans face a loud and fierce campaign over fracking this fall if activists succeed in getting any constitutional amendments on the ballot to restrict oil and gas drilling or give local governments the authority to do so.
“We’re taking them as a serious threat to responsible oil and gas development in the state of Colorado,” said Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for an industry-backed group called Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence.
“We consider all of these measures to be a ban on fracking,” Crummy said. “We’re going to fight.”
Backers of the proposed constitutional amendments also vow a fight, saying Monday’s ruling injects a sense of urgency into their cause.
“It can only help us because it shows that communities don’t have many rights right now when industry wants to drill,” said Tricia Olson of Yes for Health and Safety over Fracking, which hopes to get two measures on the ballot.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has long been a contentious issue in Colorado, the nation’s No. 7 energy-producing state. Fracking injects a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack open formations and make it easier to recover oil and gas.
Combined with other drilling techniques, it opened up previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves and boosted the economy, although low oil prices have led to widespread layoffs and a steep decline in drilling.
Critics worry about danger to the environment and public health from fracking spills and leaks. Others say around-the-clock noise, lights and fumes from drilling rigs make their homes unlivable as oilfields overlap with growing communities.
The industry says fracking is safe and that drilling companies take steps to minimize the disturbances.
Restrictions on fracking were proposed for Colorado’s 2014 ballot, but they were withdrawn because of fears they would lead to a huge Republican turnout and hand several close statewide races to the GOP.
Gov. John Hickenlooper promised to convene a task force to address the conflicts caused by drilling, but fracking critics were disappointed by its recommendations, and the industry said regulators went too far in implementing them.
This year, the presidential election will have a bigger impact on turnout than the fracking proposals, said Floyd Ciruli, a nonpartisan Denver pollster. But fracking could influence races in the Legislature, where Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and Republicans have a narrow edge in the Senate, he said.
“I do think that at the legislative level where relatively small shifts in turnout could be a big thing, it could be very important,” Ciruli said.
Some of the proposed constitutional amendments would clamp specific restrictions on the oil and gas industry, such as minimum distances between wells and homes. Others would grant local governments more regulatory power. Because they’re constitutional amendments, they would supersede Monday’s Supreme Court ruling.
Olson’s group and others are still gathering petitions to get their amendments on the ballot. If they succeed, they will face a well-financed campaign to defeat them.
By the end of last year, the pro-industry group, Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, had $746,000 on hand, according to state records.
Two groups supporting the constitutional amendments to restrict fracking reported they had less than $15,000 combined on hand this spring. Their reports covered a different period than the industry group’s.
“What we know is that industry has already been advertising nonstop,” Olson said. “What we know is they will put everything against it. But what we also know is that we have very few options left to protect Colorado’s health, safety and welfare.”
The issue does not directly impact La Plata County, where there is no ban or moratorium on oil and gas drilling activities. But it stands to guide future actions.
“The Supreme Court’s decision does not mean that the local control issue is going away,” said La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat. “Local governments need the ability to plan and ensure that oil and gas development occurs away from schools and neighborhoods.”
Some observers say the ruling reaffirmed local governments’ land-use authority, since it stated only that bans and moratoriums interfere with the state’s rule-making.
La Plata County in 1992 had a stake in determining that authority, when the Supreme Court upheld the county’s authority to regulate land-use impacts of oil and gas development.
In separate unanimous written rulings Monday, the Supreme Court declared a fracking ban in Longmont and a moratorium in Fort Collins illegal, stating that the voter-approved actions conflict with state law.
“This ruling sends a strong message that bans are not the way we do business in Colorado,” said Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council.
She underscored that La Plata and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have “robust” rules that have been re-written dozens of times over several decades.
“The reality is political decisions take away private property rights, they restrict and hinder business, and they disrupt the economy, here in La Plata County, and in other counties and cities in the state,” Zeller said.
Bruce Baizel, a Durango-based energy program director for Earthworks, called the Supreme Court’s ruling disappointing, but not surprising.
“It kind of pushes things back into the political realm in terms of initiatives,” Baizel said. “They (the Supreme Court) explicitly said it doesn’t matter if drilling or fracking negatively impacts residents, and the state has decided it’s not going to address that.”
Justice Richard L. Gabriel, who wrote the court’s opinion, said justices were not charged with weighing the economic advantages or health risks associated with fracking.
“This case … does not require us to weigh in on these differences of opinion, much less to try to resolve them,” Gabriel wrote.
Groups are readying ballot initiatives for November that run the gamut, including allowing local governments to ban fracking and increasing the distance of well setbacks.
“It makes absolute sense that it would strengthen those folks’ resolve to get a measure on the ballot,” Lachelt said of the ruling.
She co-chaired a task force that convened in 2014 to address the local control issue.
“I’ve expressed my disappointment that the task force didn’t adequately deal with the issues,” Lachelt said. “But just because we have a Supreme Court ruling doesn’t make this issue go away.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who convened the task force as part of a compromise to avoid ballot initiatives at the time, defended the work of the panel.
“The work of the task force amplified the role of local governments in siting large oil and gas facilities and built a stronger connection between state and local regulators,” the governor said in a statement.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, doubts the high court’s ruling will quell controversy.
“I fear today’s ruling will not end this divisive debate and instead some activists will continue to push anti-development initiatives undermining the state’s record of local cooperation on these policy issues,” Coffman said.
Lauren Petrie, regional director of Food and Water Watch – which helped with several initiatives across the state – said much of the opposition is just beginning.
“Today’s decision deals a devastating blow not just to Longmont residents, but to all Coloradans who have been stripped of a democratic process that should allow us the right to protect our health, safety and property from the impacts of this dangerous industrial activity.”
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Maramaduke):
The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday struck down Fort Collins’ five-year fracking moratorium, a long-awaited decision that could have statewide implications for the controversial oil and gas recovery method.
The court also ruled against Longmont’s voter-supported ban on hydraulic fracturing, the widespread practice of injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to break open formations and recover oil and gas.
In its first judgment on local fracking bans and moratoriums, the court called both laws “invalid and unenforceable” because they’re preempted by state law.
Fort Collins voters supported the moratorium in 2013, and Longmont’s ban was voted into place in 2012. But the Colorado Oil and Gas Association sued both cities in separate cases and won in the lower courts, resulting in the bans being thrown out.
Both cities appealed the lower court’s decisions, and the state appeals court in August asked the Supreme Court to take the cases. The high court heard oral arguments for the cases in December.
ANALYSIS: What’s in Larimer County’s fracking fluid?
The Fort Collins and Longmont cases represent an ongoing debate in Colorado and beyond about whether the ultimate right to regulate the oil and gas industry should belong to states or municipalities. The city of Fort Collins spent about $191,000 on outside counsel defending the citizen-initiated moratorium in court. COGA spent about $1 million fighting the Fort Collins and Longmont laws, along with a fracking ban in Lafayette and moratorium in Broomfield.
There are currently no active wells or permit-pending wells in Fort Collins. One oilfield extends into the northern edge of Fort Collins, but it’s been at least three and a half years since a well was fracked there.
Fort Collins and Longmont can’t appeal the decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court because they aren’t a matter of federal law. The city of Fort Collins hasn’t yet announced its next steps, if any.
In a statement, Fort Collins city attorney Carrie Daggett said it’s “premature” to comment until the city has carefully reviewed the high court’s decision.
“These issues are complex, and we’ll thoroughly examine the decisions relative to Fort Collins and Longmont,” she said.
Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, which campaigned for the ballot measure that installed the moratorium, wrote in a Facebook post that the group will meet in two weeks to discuss next steps. The group had not replied to the Coloradoan’s request for more information by mid-afternoon Monday.
COGA leaders said they were pleased that the court sided with them in their view that local fracking bans and moratoriums are illegal in Colorado.
“This is not just a win for the energy industry, but for the people of Colorado who rely on affordable and dependable energy and a strong economy,” COGA President and CEO Dan Haley said in a press release. “It sends a strong message to anyone trying to drive this vital industry out of the state that those efforts will not be tolerated.”
Longmont’s City Attorney’s Office will meet in executive session with the Longmont City Council on Tuesday night to review the court ruling, according to a city press release.
Broomfield, which faced a COGA lawsuit similar to Fort Collins’ for its voter-initiated, five-year fracking moratorium, stalled the lawsuit in anticipation of the Colorado Supreme Court decision. Monday’s rulings will likely lead to the invalidation of that moratorium, along with a five-year moratorium in place in Boulder and unincorporated Boulder County.
The city of Lafayette didn’t appeal after a district court judge struck down its fracking ban in 2014.
City of Longmont
“The case did not end as the city hoped, but we respect the Supreme Court’s decision,” Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs said in a press release. Coombs noted that Longmont’s other oil and gas regulations, including no drilling in neighborhoods, mandatory groundwater monitoring and setbacks from riparian areas remain in place.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat whose district includes Fort Collins
Polis called the decision “a blow to democracy and local control” in a statement.
“Now that the law has been interpreted, it’s up to the state legislature or the people of Colorado to act to protect our neighborhoods and homes,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to help advocates in these efforts to protect our communities.”
The representative also submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court siding with Fort Collins. Through his attorney, Courtney Krause, Polis argued that Fort Collins’ moratorium was a valid land use regulation.
Colorado Rep. Mike Foote, a Democrat whose district includes Longmont
In a press release, Foote said he was disappointed about the decisions but noted that they reaffirmed local governments’ land use authority.
“Cities and counties may need to modify their approach somewhat,” Foote said, “but it’s clear that the Court has reaffirmed that local governments do have a seat at the table when it comes to oil and gas development.”
“And “in cases where local control isn’t recognized, we as legislators have the ability to step in,” he added.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman
In a press release, Coffman said that local fracking bans “undermine the interests of the state as a whole.” But despite the court decisions, the fight might not be over yet, she said.
“Sadly, I fear today’s ruling will not end this divisive debate and instead some activists will continue to push anti-development initiatives undermining the state’s record of local cooperation on these policy issues,” she said.
Boulder County Board of Commissioners, which passed a moratorium on fracking in unincorporated areas of the county until July 2018
The high court decisions are specific to the communities named in the lawsuits, an unidentified board representative wrote in a press release, so the impact of the decisions on Boulder County will need further analysis.
“Like all other Colorado communities that regulate oil and gas development, we need to take a close look at our existing regulations before we take any action to change our stance on fracking in unincorporated Boulder County,” the release said.
In a press release, Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith called the decisions “disappointing” and said that local governments should be able to call a timeout on drilling while they examine its impacts.
“These decisions … show that the oil and gas industry’s threats of litigation are a hammer that the industry has no qualms about wielding against local governments if they decide to engage in land use planning,” he said in the release. “In order to combat this hammer, local governments must be empowered with better tools to protect their citizens from heavy industrial drilling.”
Colorado Petroleum Council
The Colorado Petroleum Council welcomed the decisions for upholding the state’s primacy in overseeing oil and natural gas permitting and curtailing “arbitrary bans” on fracking that could cost local jobs, deprive state and local governments of tax revenue and limit access to energy resources, according to a CPC press release.
“Today’s decision protects private property rights, which are a main driver for the energy renaissance in this country,” executive director Tracee Bentley said in the release. “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.”
Advancing Colorado, a political advocacy group that supports fracking and the production of coal and natural gas, among other things
“Today’s ruling protects Colorado’s robust energy portfolio and energy independence, and sends a strong message to the deceptive anti-energy extremists,” executive director Jonathan Lockwood said in a statement. “The Colorado Supreme Court is protecting our democratic process and their ruling will help protect our health, safety and property from the attacks of dangerous special interest groups.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Roan Plateau is high on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s list of issues to be resolved in the remaining months of the Obama administration.
Jewell recently discussed the next 100 years of conservation and a “course correction” before the National Geographic Society.
The Interior Department has “some work left to re-examine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn’t,” Jewell said. “Or where science is helping us better understand the value of the land and water and potential impacts of development. Places like Badger Two-Medicine in Montana, or the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, or the Roan Plateau in Colorado.”
Jewell’s comments, however, left some Colorado officials questioning whether they signaled a change in the direction of the management of the Roan.
The Bureau of Land Management is completing an environmental study of the area. BLM, industry and environmental groups and local governments in late 2014 reached an agreement to cancel 17 of the 19 leases issued on the plateau in 2008. The remaining two leases on top and 12 leases at the base of the plateau were to remain in place.
Jewell was referring to the plan now under study by the BLM, the Interior Department said…
The Roan Plateau was managed by the U.S. Department of Energy as an oil shale reserve until 1997, when President Bill Clinton signed legislation transferring the area to the BLM.
The act required the BLM to manage the area for multiple use and instructed the agency to begin leasing it for oil and gas development.
“We hope the secretary’s mention of the Roan Plateau bodes well for the future of the area,” said Luke Schafer, West Slope Advocacy director for Conservation Colorado, urging the BLM to complete the management plan “to protect the pristine lands, rare species, and remarkable habitat on the Roan.”
The directive to lease the area, however, remains, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Jewell’s “policies may contribute to compliance with that law taking decades rather than years,” Ludlam said, “but for the benefit of future generations we will never stop advocating for the responsible development that must and someday will occur on the Roan Plateau.”
Roan Cliffs Aerial via Rocky Mountain Wild
Roan Plateau settlement map via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
East Fork Parachute Creek
Drilling rig above waterfall Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Drilling sites in a valley on the Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona