Ignoring threats of a lawsuit from their own governor, local officials in Fort Collins, Colo., have banned the controversial drilling method known as fracking.
The City Council voted 5-2 this week to prohibit the practice within city limits. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a first-term Democrat and former mayor of Denver, has vowed to sue any Colorado municipality that says “no” to fracking, which uses huge amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack underground rock formations and release oil and natural gas.
The practice is being used extensively throughout Colorado, and Mr. Hickenlooper is among its most vocal supporters. The environmental regulations in his state are also considered among the best in the country.
While the governor has promised to stand up for fracking and take legal action against those who seek to make it illegal, Fort Collins Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Ohlson said Mr. Hickenlooper has no credibility and painted him as a shill for the oil and gas industry.
He lobbed the same charge at state environmental regulators, The Coloradoan newspaper reported.
“I believe the governor should spend his time protecting the health and safety and welfare of citizens of Colorado rather than acting like the chief lobbyist for the oil and gas industry,” Mr. Ohlson told the newspaper. “In fact, I think he should literally quit drinking the fracking Kool-Aid.”
The “Kool-Aid” comment was a dig at Mr. Hickenlooper’s recent admission that he once imbibed a glass of fracking fluid, a bizarre step designed to show skeptics that the fluid has become so environmentally safe, one can literally drink it.
He made the admission before a Senate committee last month, testimony which focused in part on Colorado’s regulation of fracking and of the oil and gas industry more broadly.
Colorado already is wrapped up in a lawsuit with the city of Longmont, which also has banned fracking. It appears a second lawsuit, this time against Fort Collins, is inevitable, though the governor says he wishes it hadn’t come to that.
“The governor takes no joy in suing local government. He respects local planning and control,” Mr. Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown, told The Denver Post.
“He also has an obligation to uphold the law,” Mr. Brown continued. “The governor wants to be honest with local communities about the state’s legal obligations” to sue over fracking bans.
The environmental community is likely to line up behind Fort Collins officials.
Last month, the Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter and the group Earthworks filed a motion to intervene in the Longmont case, expressing their solidarity with officials in that city and their displeasure with Mr. Hickenlooper’s handling of oil and gas development in Colorado.
“This action by the state government only proves that decision-making by our representatives is not always done with people in mind,” said Eric Huber, an attorney with the Sierra Club. “If Longmont wants to prevent certain dirty and dangerous practices from energy companies from happening, then that should be their right.”