7:26am

Thu October 24, 2013
Politics

Groups Look to Longmont In Fracking Ban Fight

Measures seeking to ban or limit the practice of hydraulic fracturing are on November ballots in four Colorado communities. Longmont voters banned fracking within city limits in 2012 and opponents in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette are hoping to follow in the city’s footsteps, regardless of the possible consequences.

KUNC's Nathan Heffel reports on the drilling ban in Longmont for Morning Edition.

When it comes to oil and gas development in her city, Merrily Mazza feels like Lafayette is losing control.

“We can control our pot shops, we can control other businesses that come into our community and where they operate, but we have no control over this,” said Mazza, a member of the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United.

The group is asking voters to approve Question 300 which changes Lafayette’s city charter to ban oil and gas drilling within city limits.

“It establishes the community’s right to decide to protect our health, air, water, land,” Mazza said, “to decide what goes on in our community, and to say the community’s rights supersede the rights of a corporation.”

The Lafayette City Council passed a 3 year moratorium on drilling in 2013, but without an outright ban within city limits. Mazza’s group fears the council could come back and make changes or end the moratorium for any reason, something Question 300 would prevent.

To date, Longmont is the only Colorado city where voters have approved a ban on drilling within city limits. While that’s a win for anti-fracking groups, the city is now being sued by the industry trade group the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and by Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

While Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs isn’t 100 percent behind the full ban, he’s bound by city law to defend it. “My job as an elected official is to do what the citizens have told me to do and there’s a 60 to 40 percent -almost a full mandate of the citizens who say, hey we want to ban fracking,” Coombs said.

"These bans are clearly not an energy plan, and they don't have compromise."

He says his hands are tied, and even if an oil and gas company has technology to drill from outside Longmont city limits underneath the city proper to get minerals it owns, it’s technically illegal to do so.

“You know, personally I don’t agree with that I think that’s too overreaching because I think they could safely go down you know 9,000 feet and extract their minerals,” Coombs said. “But it doesn’t matter what I think personally.”

Even with pending lawsuits, backers of the fracking ban stand by the effort. That includes Michael Bellmont with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, a group that has been advising those with fracking measures on the ballot.

“Most of us had very little if any experience in this, we were all grass roots,” Bellmont said “The key here is that we are neighbors of the people we were talking to, we are fellow citizens. And who are you going to listen to, a very high paying multinational company that comes in with a slick overproduced message, or you going to listen to a conversation with your concerned neighbor.”

The tactic worked in Longmont last year, even with the oil and gas industry spending nearly half a million dollars [.pdf] to defeat the city’s drilling ban.

Sarah Landry, a community outreach adviser for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association says the four ballot initiatives are not energy solutions, and the organization will continue to fund groups in opposition of them.

“Banning a product that we use every day is damaging to the Colorado brand of compromise and reasonableness,” Landry said. “These bans are clearly not an energy plan, and they don’t have compromise.”

This year, COGA on its own is spending over 600-thousand dollars opposing ballot measures in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette.

As groups work to ban fracking in those four cities, there are concerns that lawsuits are possible. It’s a concern for Merrily Mazza if Question 300 is approved in Lafayette, but she says her city is prepared for the long haul.

“Any city who makes a move in this direction is going to be sued,” Mazza said. “So you have to go into this with the idea that this is going to happen. You have to publicize it to people so they know what the threat is, because that’s basically where they're coming at us.”

While it’s not known when a decision will be handed down in either of the lawsuits facing Longmont, the battle could be just beginning in the four communities that have bans or moratoriums on their upcoming ballots.