| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 7 For environmentalists, votes
this week to ban fracking in three Colorado cities may prove
symbolic victories at best, as two decades of legal precedent
suggests drillers can successfully contest the bans in court,
In elections on Tuesday, the cities of Boulder, Lafayette
and Fort Collins voted to suspend or ban fracking, which
environmentalists hoped would strengthen opposition to the
But in Colorado, which has been a hub of energy production
for decades, a number of cases have established that local
municipalities may not halt energy drilling. Attorneys versed in
Colorado law say the votes will likely be overturned should they
be pursued in court.
In 1992, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a drilling
ban implemented by the City of Greeley, known as the Voss versus
Lundvall Brothers case, upholding the Oil and Gas Conservation
Act that prevents local oil and gas drilling bans.
"It is highly likely that the court would find that the
prohibition of hydraulic fracturing is unlawful under state
law," because of prior rulings in Colorado, said David Neslin,
former director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation
Commission and partner at Davis Graham & Stubbs law firm in
Colorado, where energy production has rocketed in recent
years and thousands of wells dot the landscape, is unlikely to
face the kind of widespread bans that have halted progress for
drillers most notably in New York where a statewide moratorium
has halted fracking since 2008, they said.
Earlier this year, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
joined a lawsuit filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association,
an energy lobby group, against the city of Longmont, which has
voted to ban drilling in the energy heartland of northern
With that case ongoing, it is unclear if the governor will
seek to overturn these latest bans. A spokesman for the
governor's office said there "may or may not be" cases filed.
"It would be up to a court to determine the legality of the
bans if additional lawsuits are filed," he said.
DRILLING BOOM, LEGAL CLASHES
The United States has experienced a drilling boom in recent
years as energy firms found cheaper ways to extract oil and gas
from shale rock deposits using fracking and horizontal drilling.
In Colorado, home to the Niobrara shale and other such
deposits, gas and oil output has risen to record highs. Oil
production exceeded 49 million barrels in 2012, a 25 percent
increase over 2011, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission. There are more than 50,000 active wells
in the state, government data show.
But environmentalists are concerned that fracking, which
involves pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced water
deep underground, can contaminate fresh water sources and have
negative health impacts.
Still, in a state where drilling is on the rise, some say
towns are better off trying to ensure safeguards for drilling
rather than voting for outright bans that could face legal
Making sure drilling is set back from schools and homes, and
enforcing stricter drilling rules could reap more rewards, said
Jenna Keller, an attorney who represents farmers and ranchers
for Otis, Coan and Peters law firm in nothern Colorado.
"Going for that all out ban may mean they have nothing in
place, that is the disappointing thing maybe coming down the
road for some of these municipalities," Keller said.
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)