Environmentalists suffered two setbacks Tuesday when leaders in Fort Collins overturned an indefinite ban on hydraulic fracturing while commissioners in Boulder County decided to let their fracking moratorium expire.
In a sharply divided 4-3 vote that saw comments fired back and forth between Mayor pro tem Gerry Horak and his colleagues last night, the Fort Collins City Council overturned the fracking ban that it initially passed on Feb 19. The mayor pro tem cited an impending threat of a lawsuit from the lone driller that is operating in Fort Collins for why he changed his vote.
Prospect Energy reportedly threatened to sue Fort Collins over the ban. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper had also warned the city of potential litigation from state officials.
In addition to allowing Prospect Energy to resume fracking its current well pads, Fort Collins will soon open up two new square miles of land for fracking around the Anheuser-Busch brewery along Interstate 25.
Public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the ban. Now it will be lifted in August.
In an email to media this morning, Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action wrote that the vote "violates the will of the citizens as well as endangers the health, environment, and property of Fort Collins. Fracking is a dangerous industrial process," he wrote, "that has no place inside residential areas and near schools."
Fort Collins also struck a deal with Denver-based Prospect Energy that officials say will hold it to a standard that is stricter than that of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Earlier Tuesday, the Boulder County commissioners voted 2-1 not to extend their moratorium on fracking. Commissioner Elise Jones voted to extend the moratorium for two years while Commissioners Deb Gardner and Cindy Domenico voted not to extend it. The current moratorium ends in June.
A broad spectrum of Boulderites had spoken loudly against fracking because of its potential to pollute local air, water and land. Many of them asked to put a fracking referendum on the November ballot.
The commissioners cited the potential to get sued in their reasoning to let the ban expire.
A coalition of anti-fracking groups issued a statement condemning Boulder's vote and calling "for a new movement to now be born to defend our health, the overall well-being of our community, and our right to local self determination." The statement added that the commissioners have "failed in their duty to protect public health, our way of life, Boulder County open spaces, farms, residences and the natural environment."
The local chapter of a group called Energy In Depth, which is organized by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, issued a press release censuring the "over-the-top rhetoric [of the anti-fracking crowd] … and [their] refusal to accept the fact that scientists, engineers, state regulators and senior officials in the Obama administration have repeatedly stated hydraulic fracturing is fundamentally safe. The debate in Boulder County should focus on the facts, and the robust and responsible regulations that are already enforced by the state of Colorado, not reckless claims by ideologically motivated activist groups."