FORT COLLINS - In the face of a flood of public support, the Fort Collins City Council on Tuesday took a step toward banning fracking within city limits.
The council voted 5-2 to give initial approval to an ordinance that would prohibit all gas and oil exploration activity in the city including hydraulic fracturing, a commonly used technique to increase oil and gas production from wells.
The council also passed a resolution stating its support for the city of Longmont in its legal fight with the state over its efforts to regulate gas and oil activity within its city limits. The state through the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has authority over the industry.
Councilmembers Gerry Horak said the city should have local control over land-use decisions in its jurisdiction. And the state may not necessarily sue over the ban as many predict, he said.
"I have no earthly idea how the state would be damaged by this," he said.
Council members Wade Troxell and Aislinn Kottwitz opposed the ban. Kottwitz said data does not support claims fracking is dangerous. Oil wells would not be drilled next to homes and schools, she said.
"There are not going to be health and safety issue inside Fort Collins," she said. "It's going to be on the edge of the city of Fort Collins."
The sometimes emotional public comment on the proposal lasted about an hour and 40 minutes with about 60 speakers and a standing-room-only crowd looking on.
Rico Moore, a leader in the move to ban fracking, said the city should act to protect the health of its residents. It also should protect city-owned natural areas outside of city limits that are "very dear" to residents.
"Those we love, the air we breathe, the water we need to survive ... that is more important than anything," he said.
Several speakers made reference to last week's spill of about 84,000 gallons of fracking flowback water at a well near Windsor. The fluid flowed for 30 hours before crews shut it off.
Christina Cafaro said the city needs to act to protect the public against air and water pollution.
"A ban can be undone; a fracking disaster cannot," she said.
But opponents of the ban said there is no data or evidence that fracking is hazardous. Ray Martinez, a former mayor, said there is no reason to rush ahead with regulations.
"If we've been doing fracking for 30 years; another six months is not going to hurt us," he said.
A coalition of businesses and individuals presented the council with a petition calling for it to not ban fracking. City resident Estrelia Segura said the ban would hurt local businesses and the city shouldn't take on an expensive legal battle with the state, which has authority over oil and gas development.
"We are working too hard to be subject to a lawsuit just to make a point," she said.
Hydraulic fracturing is an extraction technique that uses a combination of water, sand and chemicals under pressure to dislodge oil and gas from shale deposits deep beneath the surface. It is commonly used to increase the production of wells.
Gas and oil exploration and production would not be allowed in about 89 percent of land within city limits because of state regulations. Production occurs in an oilfield on the northeastern edge of city limits.
Hunter Harms, who lives near Richards Lake, said oil production is going on in his neighborhood and he doesn't want to see it grow and I don't want it in my back yard."
"In my eyes, the oil companies brought this on themselves," he said.
The Fort Collins City Council is scheduled to give final consideration to the ban during its March 5 meeting.