DALLAS -- Oil and gas producers in Colorado won a significant legal victory Thursday as a state district court struck down local restrictions on hydraulic fracturing within city limits.
The ruling by Boulder County State District Court Judge D.D. Mallard that state law pre-empts local ordinances could intensify ballot initiatives seeking new state restrictions on the process known as "fracking."
Mallard issued a stay on her own ruling in anticipation that the decision would be appealed.
"In other words, there shall be no hydraulic fracturing activity in the city of Longmont until further order of court, either from this court or a higher court," she wrote.
Oil and gas operators are regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is guided by state law.
Longmont voters approved a ban on fracking in 2012, prompting a lawsuit by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Mallard later added the commission as a plaintiff in the case.
While Longmont residents and environmental groups submitted reports about the threat to their health, environment and property values from fracking, Mallard dismissed the reports as "sincerely held beliefs" that she was in no position to evaluate.
"There is no way to harmonize Longmont's fracking ban with the stated goals of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act," Mallard's ruling read. "There is no common ground upon which to craft a means to harmonize the state and local interest. The conflict in this case is an irreconcilable conflict."
Advocates of statewide restrictions on fracking are circulating petitions calling for a vote in November while the industry is gathering signatures for initiatives that would prevent or discourage local bans by withholding tax revenue from oil and gas operations.
Gov. John Hickenlooper considered calling a special session to resolve the conflict but announced on July 18 that he would leave the decision to the state's voters. Later that day, he joined a rally led by business leaders opposing local bans on fracking.