Controversial Broomfield fracking moratorium vote postponed

After a lengthy and occasionally emotional meeting that drew more than 500 people, a divided Broomfield City Council decided Tuesday night to wait until late February to vote on a five-month moratorium on new oil and gas development in the city and county.

Following the six-hour meeting, council members decided 5-4 to postpone voting on the issue until Feb. 28, so they could take more time to consider community and industry viewpoints and the potential impacts of the proposed ban. Two weeks ago, Council passed the first reading of the proposal unanimously.

City Council took up the issue of a temporary moratorium after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled local jurisdictions have no control over oil-and-gas regulation — even within their own boundaries — because such authority lies with the state. That decision overturned long-term bans in Longmont and Fort Collins and later invalidated Broomfield’s five-year moratorium.

Still, residents there and in other cities across the state continue to push for temporary bans they hope will give local governments time to review existing fracking rules, regulations and related fees. The ban in question follows a proposal by Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas to drill 140 wells on four well sites in northern Broomfield.

Attendees at Tuesday night’s meeting offered passionate testimony, with the majority demanding that the city impose the temporary moratorium in order to protect human and environmental health.

“What is the chance that, over my lifetime, these wells will age and degrade and become like the majority of other wells in this city that have already been discovered to have leaks?” 15-year-old Miriam Anderson asked, barely holding back tears. “I ask desperately for this council and this city to do anything in their power to protect the lives of residents like myself who are very uneasy about the future impacts of oil and gas development that is close to our homes.”

Other residents spoke against the moratorium, invoking the Colorado Constitution and citing the economic value of fossil fuel development and the need to protect the property rights of mineral owners.

Attorneys for both Extraction and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association argued against the ban, with Extraction saying it would violate state law. Extraction also presented an updated plan for its development, which reduces the well count from 140 to 139 and moves 25 wells further from neighborhoods.

Council members acknowledged the improvements offered by the updated plan, but expressed concern that they didn’t go far enough. In the end, Council voted for more time to discuss its options and meet with those for and against the moratorium before going forward.

In the interim, Broomfield is organizing a community forum that will include Extraction, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the state agency that oversees oil and gas development. That meeting is expected to be held later this month or early next.


Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians, Creative Commons, Flickr