Elected officials in Ft. Collins, CO, the university town about 57 miles north of Denver, have passed a ban on oil and natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city limits. The measure still must pass on a second reading in early March.

A coalition of businesses, energy and local government interests is opposed to the measure and pushing for it to be rejected on its second vote. These are the same groups organized by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) that are supporting legal action by the state against another Colorado city, Longmont, which passed a similar ban as part of a ballot initiative last November (see Shale Daily, Feb. 19).

If ratified by a second vote, Ft. Collins would become the second city in the state to enact a drilling ban, and activity on this issue in other local municipalities continues to simmer, including action last year in Erie, CO, to create local rules compatible with existing state regulations (see Shale Daily, Sept. 11, 2012). Erie’s action was embraced by COGA and the state.

On Tuesday the Ft. Collins City Council also passed a resolution supporting Longmont’s ban. Supporters among the majority on the council told local news media they see the local law as a land-use issue that is not harmful to the state. Opponents see it as unnecessary and future drilling as not being harmful to the city’s health and welfare.

The supporters, however, pointed to a recent spill of 84,000 gallons of fracking fluids at a well in nearby Windsor, CO, a couple of miles north of Ft. Collins. Citizens speaking for the city ban see it as protection against air and water pollution that they allege will come from more drilling.

COGA CEO Tisha Schuller said the Ft. Collins ordinance should be rejected because the Colorado Supreme Court already has ruled that oil/gas drilling cannot be banned by local city, county or municipal jurisdictions.

Schuller said most Colorado citizens know that fracking has been ongoing in the state for more than 60 years and that 95% of the wells in the state have used hydraulic fracturing. In Ft. Collins’ one oil/gas drilling area that the city annexed in recent years fracking has been conducted safely since 1954, she said.

It turns out the proposed new ordinance would exempt existing well pads in the local field operated by a unit of Denver-based Black Diamond Minerals, Prospect Energy LLC, from the ban, but any new wells or fracking would be prohibited.

“Coloradoans generally don’t expect energy to be developed elsewhere when we have capability to contribute to domestic energy production ourselves,” Schuller said. “A ban is counter to this goal. COGA acknowledges the concerns, risks and benefits associated with any energy development.”

She called for more collaboration and less confrontation on the local front, but COGA still made it clear it will consider legal action if the measure passes for a second time in March. Dozens of business leaders and citizens from in and around Ft. Collins appeared at the city council meeting Tuesday supporting COGA’s stance against the measure.

Separately, a contingent of elected representatives from 12 cities and 11 counties where the majority of the oil/gas production activity is now taking place wrote to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday, thanking him for “rising above partisan squabbling” in the current ongoing national oil/gas debate.

They praised Hickenlooper for seeking a “sensible energy balance” that includes “rigorous regulation and enforcement” and is consistent throughout the state. The governor supports the primacy of state rules when it comes to oil/gas oversight.