Officials from one of two Colorado cities to halt hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within its boundaries, Commerce City, heard from a panel of experts that a permanent ban against the oil/gas industry drilling technology is not possible, and besides, the state already closely regulates the practice.

Commerce City elected officials are holding a series of oil/gas land-use review sessions as part of the city's information-gathering on fracking after imposing a 30-day moratorium on the technology's use last month (see Shale Daily, Dec. 22, 2011). Calling it a "time out," city officials took the action Dec. 19 in lieu of a proposed six-month ban on fracking.

An attorney on an experts panel convened by the city, Barbara Green, said cities cannot outright prohibit the practice of fracking in their communities, nor can they regulate the chemicals used in the process. However, they can regulate against the technology's environmental impacts.

Another panelist at Tuesday's session, Debbie Baldwin, environmental manager with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told city officials and residents that oil/gas activities in the state are heavily regulated. Baldwin also said it is very unlikely that groundwater would be contaminated as a offshoot of the fracking. The general manager of the local water and sanitation district further supported this assurance.

At this point, it is unclear if the local elected officials will support a longer, six-month ban on the use of fracking. When they acted on the shorter ban time in December, the city council members indicated that they might want to lengthen the moratorium.

Earlier in December a second fracking moratorium was imposed in Colorado Springs. The city council there passed a fracking ordinance stopping any land use applications, permit applications or any other applications requesting approval to conduct oil and gas exploration and production activity within the city. The moratorium includes Banning Lewis Ranch, for which there have been plans for a housing development and more recently in which Houston-based Ultra Petroleum Corp. bought 18,000 acres and in October gained approval to drill three exploratory wells and use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to stimulate them.

Located in northeastern Colorado in Adams County, Commerce City's ordinance was passed by an 8-0 vote following testimony by residents, environmental groups, businesses and the oil/gas industry.