A History of the Fight Against Fracking on the Front Range

For years, activists around the country have railed against fracking, but it wasn’t until the 2010 release of “Gasland” (and the infamous sequence of Weld County, CO residents lighting their tap water on fire), that the general public was galvanized in the fight against fracking.

In Colorado, the fight really began to heat up when the City of Longmont introduced Ballot Question 300 in November of 2012, which banned the use of the fracking process to extract oil or gas, as well as the storage of produced frack fluid within city limits. The measure passed by a significant margin of the popular vote, and the very next year, the cities of Fort Collins, Boulder, and Broomfield all passed similar 5-year moratoria to stop fracking within their city limits. The city of Lafayette also passed an indefinite ban on fracking during that same voting period in 2013.

The voters’ choice did not stay for long, however. Shortly after the Longmont Ballot Question 300 was passed, the City of Longmont was sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the State of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to overturn the amendment. It was ruled at the district level that fracking fell under the jurisdiction of the State, and that the City “does not have the authority to prohibit what the state authorizes and permits”, but immediately after the ruling, the case was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, meaning the ban would stay in effect until the state ruling was given.

Before the appeal was heard, however, Governor John Hickenlooper was able to negotiate a deal between the oil and gas industry and the anti-fracking environmental groups: 4 controversial ballot measures (2 supported by each side) would be removed from the upcoming state ballot, an 18-member committee would be assembled in order to advise the state government on issues around fracking, and the COGCC would drop its case against the City of Longmont, allowing the fracking ban to remain in effect.

Unfortunately, the fight was not over. In 2016, a lawsuit between COGA and the City of Fort Collins made its way to the Colorado Supreme Court. An excerpt from the court’s decision on that case is as follows: “We conclude that because fracking is a matter of mixed state and local concern, Fort Collins’s fracking moratorium is subject to preemption by state law… Accordingly, we hold that the moratorium is preempted by state law and is, therefore, invalid and unenforceable.”

This was the final nail in the coffin for the fight against fracking on the Front Range. The State Supreme Court had upheld that the city couldn’t ban what the state allowed, and had also explicitly stated that oil and gas development was in the state’s, not the city’s jurisdiction. This decision was quickly applied to the other bans and moratoria in the area, and with a few exceptions (shortly after the decision, Boulder County enacted a 6-month moratorium in order to update its outdated regulations), the verdict was in and fracking was here to stay.

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