Boulder City Council To Consider Fracking Moratorium

Boulder's leaders listened with great interest last week, when at a joint meeting of community officials, Longmont's city attorney gave an update on the slow progress of two lawsuits looking to block the town's efforts to regulate fracking and eliminate a voter-approved measure to ban it.

Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum was especially interested in the timing of possible decisions in the two cases, noting "We're trying to figure out what we're doing. Everyone is watching this case and what the outcome might be."

On Tuesday the Boulder City Council will consider a one-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling permits in the city and on city-owned open space properties. Members will also vote on an ordinance that would ban the use, sale or supply of city water in oil gas extraction processes.

Councilwoman Suzanne Jones enthusiastically called for a moratorium in Boulder at a City Council retreat earlier this year, and said she plans to vote for both measures Tuesday. She said passing them is important now that Boulder County's moratorium on new oil and gas applications is set to expire June 10.

"We are responding to real threats that are being experienced by communities in our region and we are just trying to be proactive," Jones said, mentioning struggles with fracking issues in Longmont, Erie, Lafayette and Fort Collins.

Jones said several studies into the health and environmental impacts of fracking should be completed in the next year, and she wants Boulder to remain fracking-free until that information is publicly available.

"I think it is incumbent on us to gather the information and the latest research and proceed very thoughtfully in making sure our community is protected," she said.

Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr and his staff drafted the moratorium and associated water ordinance. If approved, the moratorium would remain in effect until 8 a.m. on June 3, 2014.

In the council memo, staff outline that a one-year moratorium was selected, despite pressure from some residents to enact a longer one, because it was unlikely to be successfully challenged in court, where a five-your moratorium or ban could bring legal challenges placing city regulatory powers at risk.

Reasons given for the moratorium include the need for more information regarding fracking's impact on ground water, which is especially important in Boulder where the water table is generally very shallow, according to the city staff.

Longtime Boulder resident Ben Binder said he plans to speak out against the moratorium on Tuesday. While he said he is "no friend to the industry" he became familiar with fracking while working as a consultant for state oil and gas regulatory agencies in several states and feels the city council is only hearing the negative side of the facts about it.

"I think there is just a lot of hype and hysteria and the city council is only really hearing from one side," Binder said. "I want to present some facts from the other side and I am disappointed that there aren't more individuals who really know the business being asked to speak."

Industry advocates echoed Binder's position on the moratorium, with Courtney Loper, mountain states field director for advocacy group, Energy in Depth, saying the council should not base its decision on a "dishonest scare campaign."

"Scientists, state regulators, and senior federal officials have repeatedly stated that hydraulic fracturing is safe, and only accounts for just one tenth of one percent of water use in Colorado," Loper said via email.

Binder said he feels taking measures to prevent fracking in Boulder is hypocritical considering natural gas is viewed as a gateway fuel to renewable energy sources the city covets, and the measure is a "waste of time" because Boulder is not fertile ground when it comes to natural gas deposits.

The staff memo notes that neither the city or Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks department has received a new oil and gas exploration permit in over 10 years.

Neshama Abraham, co-chair of the oil and gas team for the Sierra Club's Boulder based Indian Peaks Group, said the moratorium is the right way to go. She said there are thousands of acres of city-owned open space outside the city limits that are at risk of being fracked without county protection.

She plans to advocate for a longer moratorium on Tuesday, one that would extend to 2018 to allow for the completion of comprehensive National Science Foundation study of it.

"It's just basic good practice. You learn about something, you make sure it's safe before you allow it," Abraham said. "There is no reason the oil and gas industry should be exempted from basic safety practices."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or

If you go

What: Public hearing covering a proposed 1-year fracking moratorium in Boulder

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway

For more information ___

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