Last week, in a letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (a trade association composed of Colorado companies working in or with the oil and gas industry, also known as “COGA”), U.S. Congressman Jared Polis had a simple message: “Please stop suing the communities I represent.”
The letter comes after a recent string of electoral losses for the oil and gas industry in Colorado communities. Although COGA spent nearly a million dollars in the November elections attempting to defeat local ballot measures in four cities either banning or temporarily halting fracking—Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Lafayette—the measures passed in all four (including Broomfield, where the results of recount recently affirmed the passage of a 5-year moratorium on fracking).
Photo via Erie Rising/Flickr
Now, instead of trying to buy popular support, COGA, has turned to a different tactic: suing the cities that voted for these measures. COGA has issued lawsuits against the cities of Fort Collins and Lafayette, and has now threatened to sue the City of Broomfield as well. In addition, COGA has already been involved in two separate lawsuits against the City of Longmont for its passage of a fracking ban.
Collectively, these lawsuits attempt to override the majority vote of local residents in an area of law that is far from clear. As in other shale-bearing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the extent to which municipalities can exercise traditional zoning and home rule powers with respect to drilling has not yet been fully fleshed out by the state's highest court. While preventing complete bans on all oil and gas drilling, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that Colorado municipalities are allowed to pass laws related to “various aspects” of drilling—which perhaps includes the recent bans and moratoriums on the technique of fracking.
The letter from Congressman Polis highlights that, ultimately, Coloradan communities need to have “express authority” under state law to be able to control their own fate when it comes to fracking and other industrial activities. In the meantime, Polis calls upon COGA to stop attempting to “sue, bully, or buy [their] way” into communities that have made a democratic decision to keep fracking out.
As the home rule battles play out in Colorado and other states across the country, NRDC remains committed through the work of its Community Fracking Defense Project to helping communities stand up for their rights when it comes to fracking, and defending communities when industry refuses to back down.