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Oral Argument Inconclusive on Colorado Town's Fracking Ban

A state district court judge in Larimer County, CO, said Wednesday that he will make a decision in the next 30 days following oral arguments in a court case challenging a sixth Colorado city's attempt to hold a referendum on a moratorium on oil/natural gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, within city limits.

Judge Daniel Kaup listened to five hours of arguments from pro- and anti-fracking ban advocates in the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins, CO. He said the Loveland, CO, case has turned into a procedural legal proceeding in which oil/gas drilling is rarely mentioned.

Five other Colorado cities already have enacted some form of ban or moratorium on fracking, with four passing ballot initiatives in November (see Shale Daily, Nov. 18).

A pro-industry group, Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), is closely tracking the case and said Loveland was not part of the recent November election because of its city council's decision not to place a drilling initiative on the ballot.

"I think in general people hate to see issues come to this point, especially on something like fracking where the answer isn't more litigation, regulation or legislation that is needed; it's more education," said Jon Haubert, CRED communications director. He said the fracking issue now is being tried in two courts: the legal one and the "court of public opinion."

The Loveland citizen challenging the city's proposed ban, Larry Sarner, told NGI's Shale Daily that the oral arguments turned into a procedural skirmish among his lawyers, attorneys for the anti-fracking group Protect Our Loveland (POL) and the city's representatives.

While Judge Kaup said he would act in the next 30 days, Sarner said everyone is hoping his decision comes more quickly. "It's become an election law case as much as anything," said Sarner. He said the judge will basically decide if the fact that the city allegedly violated the rules for signatures needed for the initiative should void the city's proposed ballot measure or whether the measure can be put on a ballot next year anyway.

The merits of a local governmental entity attempting to regulate oil/gas drilling, which historically has been reserved for state jurisdiction, is not a matter for Judge Kaup. If Sarner's supporters are correct, the judge will decide to make Loveland city officials go back and start the ballot initiative process all over again.

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