Colorado Frack Ban Axed

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By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- Local bans on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Colorado are now unconstitutional following a pair of rulings handed down by the Colorado Supreme Court Monday.

The rulings are considered good for farmers and ranchers, particularly in the northeast part of the state. Mineral rights have become a key income source for farmers in that part of Colorado.

Two communities in northeastern Colorado, Longmont and Fort Collins, approved local bans on fracking in recent years.

The region is seeing an increase in the use of fracking -- the cracking of underground geological formations with water pressure and chemicals to tap trapped natural gas and oil.

The court declared unconstitutional a 2012 voter-approved fracking ban in Longmont as well as a five-year fracking moratorium approved by voters in Fort Collins in 2013. Both were declared unconstitutional because they conflict with state law that allows fracking.

Chad Vorthmann, Colorado Farm Bureau's executive vice president and a board member for the group Vital for Colorado, told DTN the rulings were important.

"The ruling highlights how important property rights are to all of us from Front-Range homeowners to farmers in the four corners of our state," he said. "That was why many Vital for Colorado members filed as a friend of the court to underscore that local bureaucrats can't tell homeowners and private property owners what they can and can't do with their own property."

Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs said in a news release Monday, "The case did not end as the city hoped, but we respect the Supreme Court's decision. "Longmont has secured important protections for the community including no drilling in neighborhoods, mandatory groundwater monitoring, setbacks from riparian areas, and other important regulations that will protect the health and safety of our residents."

Shawn Martini, senior director of communications for the Consumer Energy Alliance in Denver, told DTN the court rulings are good for farmers and ranchers who benefit from mineral rights. Had the court ruled differently it could have allowed local communities to put more restrictions on agricultural activities and other industries as well.

"This is a good thing for agriculture and rural parts of the state because the ruling protects the private property rights of mineral and surface owners and maintains the balance between the surface and mineral estates, and energy development and land-use planning that the current case law and statutes have created over the past few decades," he said.

Despite the ruling, Martini said he believes anti-fracking groups and anti-agriculture groups will continue to push the issue. He anticipates a statewide ballot measure on fracking.

"With the decision final, look for renewed effort by anti-energy groups to gather enough signatures to make sure they certify their four measures for the ballot in November," Martini said.

Kent Holsinger, an agriculture lawyer and founder of Holsinger Law, LLC, in Denver, said the ruling means agriculture and oil interests will continue to work together in Colorado.

"I see this decision as a win for both oil and gas and agriculture," he said. "Rather than competing for water resources, we largely see cooperation between ag and industry. Namely, agriculture is making money by leasing water rights to oil and gas. They're then investing the proceeds in improvements to their irrigation systems and/or keeping assessments lower for their shareholders."

Farmers account for about 84% of water use, followed by cities at 8% and industrial interests at 8%, according to information from Northern Water, a group that manages the Colorado-Big Thompson Water Project. Northern Water manages an allocation pool coming from a 13-mile pipeline to the Front Range.

A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission report said less than one-tenth of 1% of water in Colorado is used for fracking.

The two Colorado Supreme Court rulings on hydraulic fracking can be viewed here: http://www.dtn.com/… and http://www.dtn.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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