DENVER – Colorado’s battle over who should regulate fracking could be on the fast track to the state Supreme Court.
The Colorado Court of Appeals on Monday asked to bow out of lawsuits over Longmont’s ban on fracking and a five-year-moratorium in Fort Collins.
The move would allow the Supreme Court to take the cases immediately, without waiting for the appeals court to hear arguments and make rulings. The higher court hasn’t said if it will take the cases.
Local voters approved a ban in Longmont in 2012 and a moratorium in Fort Collins in 2013, prompting lawsuits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group.
Lower courts overturned the ban and the moratorium, saying regulation is the state’s prerogative.
The cities asked the Court of Appeals to restore their restrictions. But the court asked to step aside, saying the issues are significant, and they will eventually wind up before the state Supreme Court.
Longmont officials were reviewing the decision, and they had no immediate comment. Fort Collins officials didn’t immediately return a call, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association had no immediate comment.
Several groups that intervened in the Longmont lawsuit, seeking to uphold the ban, welcomed the latest development, saying it reflects the legitimacy of Longmont’s rules. The groups include Our Longmont and Food & Water Watch.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, injects a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to break open formations and make it easier to recover oil and gas. Opponents worry about public health and environmental effects.
The industry says fracking is safe and has helped fuel an oil and gas boom in Colorado – the nation’s No. 7 energy-producing state – and elsewhere.
Regulating fracking has been a simmering issue in Colorado for a year, centering on whether local governments have the power to impose stricter rules than the state.
Opposing groups filed initiatives for the November 2014 ballot, but the measures were withdrawn in a truce negotiated by Gov. John Hickenlooper. He then appointed a task force that eventually proposed giving local governments a consulting role but not the power to set their own rules.
That disappointed fracking critics. On Monday, a group called Coloradans for Community Rights took the first step toward another ballot measure that would let local governments regulate drilling for oil and gas. Like all ballot proponents, the group needs state approval of the language before gathering petition signatures to get the issue before voters.
The measure was quickly denounced as a job-killer by Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, which defends the oil-and-gas industry.