Judge orders Broomfield can’t certify election results on controversial fracking ban; Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) On Fracking Lawsuits: ‘Stop Suing Our Communities’

Outcome of Broomfield fracking fight waits for Colorado Supreme Court ruling by Cathy Proctor, December 18, 2013, Denver Business Journal
A fight over the fate of a Broomfield ballot measure that would ban fracking in the city is on hold. Following a recount, the “yes” vote on the city measure in last month’s election was leading by 20 votes. But that result has been blocked amid questions over Broomfield’s handling of the election. A court hearing on the matter had been set for Wednesday. But now it has been delayed indefinitely by agreement of both the city and the Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition. The two sides are waiting for a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court in the case of Hanlen vs. Gessler. “We want to avoid possible challenges in the Broomfield case based on the Supreme Court’s decisions,” said BJ Nikkel, a spokeswoman for the coalition that fought the hydraulic fracturing ban and has said city officials mishandled the election process.

Three other Front Range cities — Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette — passed fracking bans in the elections that ended in November. The Supreme Court case, involving the office of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, revolves around whether votes should be counted for a candidate for the Adams 12 Five Star Schools board even though she lived outside the district whose seat she was campaigning for. One aspect of the Supreme Court case — a section that addresses how suits are brought over the elections process — might affect the Broomfield suit, said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for Gessler. … The city has certified the election results as a win for the fracking measure, but a Broomfield County judge ordered the stay on the certification until he could hold a hearing — now delayed — on how the election was handled. [Emphasis added]

Judge orders Broomfield can’t certify election results on controversial fracking ban by Megan Quinn, December 11, 2013, Enterprise
A judge’s order issued Tuesday evening has further muddied the already cloudy situation surrounding the fracking ban approved by Broomfield voters. Tuesday, District Court Judge Francis Wasserman issued an order barring Broomfield from certifying the election results and ordered elections officials to comply with state elections law. The order was issued in the wake of a lawsuit filed Dec. 3 by pro-fracking group Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition. BBEC called the judge’s ruling a victory in its ongoing protests about the election, but Broomfield City and County Attorney Bill Tuthill said the order is “baffling,” because the election results were certified by the canvass board on Dec. 5. Broomfield on Thursday plans to file a motion asking the judge to reconsider, Tuthill said. A hearing on the issue has not yet been scheduled. Tuesday evening, Wasserman enjoined certification of Broomfield Ballot Question 300, which bans fracking in Broomfield for five years. Wasserman’s order was in response to the lawsuit in which BBEC alleges the elections division failed to provide access to its election watchers throughout the controversial ballot-counting process.

In a statement issued Wednesday, BJ Nikkel, an advisor for BBEC, said the group has repeatedly asked Broomfield for “basic election information that our designated election watchers are entitled to review under state law,” including vote logs and access to what election workers talked about during alleged closed-door sessions. The group was denied access to that information, she stated. “Instead of jamming incomplete results through the … certification process, city election officials should have complied with our information request and engaged in an open process to fix what was broken, before declaring the vote count as final,” she stated. City and County Attorney Tuthill said Broomfield has given election watchers fair access to the election. Tuthill said Broomfield had 20 days to respond to the suit, but was not given the full amount of time to do so before Wasserman issued his order on Tuesday. Because Broomfield has already certified the election results, Tuthill likened the order to ordering a gay couple not to attend a prom that already happened a week ago. “At some point in time, you have to say the election is over,” he said. [Emphasis added]

Jared Polis On Fracking Lawsuits: ‘Stop Suing Our Communities’ by Huffingtonpost.com, December 5, 2013
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) delivered a lecture to Colorado’s Oil and Gas Association on YouTube, asking them to withdraw the lawsuits they recently filed against two cities that passed fracking moratoriums last month. “I’m calling on the Colorado Oil and Gas Association to stop suing our communities just because they don’t want fracking,” Polis said in the video. “Look, there’s been a public debate, there’s been a vote — you don’t win friends by disregarding a public vote and suing to get your way.” In the state’s election last month, voters in four communities succeeded in passing five-year fracking moratoriums or outright bans even though the oil and gas association outspent anti-fracking groups by over $850,000. Three communities — Fort Collins, Lafayette and Longmont — are now being sued by the COGA, and Broomfield is being sued for the way they conducted their election, which passed a five-year fracking moratorium but was so close that it triggered a mandatory recount. Polis also wrote a letter to Tisha Schuller, the president of the COGA on Wednesday, asking her to “Please stop suing the communities I represent.”

“The voters made their decision. Within the borders of their city, they decided they don’t want fracking,” Polis continues in the video. “It’s a judgment call, but it’s a judgement call for voters in cities, in counties to make. It shows complete disrespect for the system.” [Emphasis added]

Oil and gas association sues Colorado cities to reverse fracking bans by rt.com, December 04, 2013
Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) has filed a lawsuit against the cities of Fort Collins and Lafayette, claiming that bans on fracking for oil and gas voted in by its citizens go against state laws regulating natural resources. In November, Fort Collins approved a five-year moratorium on fracking within the city, while Lafayette made amendments to its city charter, making hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas illegal.

COGA said that the bans are illicit as the Colorado Supreme Court earlier ruled that fracking “can’t be banned,” with the state law preempting any local regulations. The association also said that it is only the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that has “exclusive” authority to regulate wells situated in the state. “It is regrettable and unfortunate that COGA had to take this action,” Tisha Schuller, the association’s president, said in a statement. “There are over 100,000 families that rely on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods and these bans effectively stop oil and gas development.”

“With 95 percent of all wells in Colorado hydraulically fractured, any ban on fracking is a ban on oil and gas development,” she said. The authorities in Fort Collins and Lafayette said that they haven’t yet received any notifications of COGA lawsuits. After voters in the cities rejected fracking in November, Schuller said that she considered the bans on extraction to be “nothing more than symbolic votes.” COGA currently decided to abstain from suing Boulder and Broomfield – two other Colorado cities that have imposed fracking moratoriums, Doug Flanders, the association’s spokesman, told Colorado.com. There are no active wells in Boulder, and the Broomfield vote on the issue is now officially being recounted, Flanders said. Meanwhile, the results of the recount in Broomfield were announced late Tuesday, with the fracking ban passing by a wafer-thin 20 votes. On the same day, the Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the group’s watchers were prevented from monitoring the recount.  

The dangers of fracking include ground water contamination, air pollution, migration of gases and chemicals to the surface, increase of atmospheric CO2 levels and even earthquakes.  [Emphasis added]

Colorado Cities Sued Over Fracking Bans by Oil, Gas Group by Andrew Harris, December 4, 2013, Bloomberg
The Colorado Oil & Gas Association sued the cities of Fort Collins and Lafayette claiming their voter-enacted bans on the extraction of oil and natural gas are preempted by state laws regulating those resources. The association seeks court orders permanently blocking the bans, according to copies of the complaints it provided. The filings couldn’t be immediately confirmed in Larimer and Boulder county court records.

Fort Collins voters on Nov. 5 chose to forbid all hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas for five years, according to the industry group’s complaint against the city, while Lafayette voters amended their city charter to bar oil and gas extraction. … The bans violate the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act, which requires uniform regulation, according to the complaints. Colorado’s Supreme Court has held state law preempts local regulations when an issue comprises mixed state and local concerns, Schuller said in the statement.

No Surprise
“Its not a surprise that the Colorado Oil & Gas Association would take this position,” Laurie Kadrich, director of community development and neighborhood services for the city of Fort Collins, said in a phone interview today. “As a city, we have a responsibility to defend the voter-approved ordinance, so we’ll be looking into the contents of the lawsuit and we’ll respond appropriately,” she said. Debbie Wilmot, a spokeswoman for Lafayette, said in an e-mail yesterday that the city hadn’t yet received any notification of the lawsuit.

The cases are Colorado Oil & Gas Association v. City of Fort Collins, 2013CV031385, Larimer County, Colorado, District Court (Fort Collins); and Colorado Oil & Gas Association v. City of Lafayette, Colorado, 2013CV031746, Boulder County, Colorado, District Court (Boulder). [Emphasis added]

Fracking ban official in Broomfield, but legal questions loom by Megan Quinn, December 5, 2013, Broomfield Enterprise
Voters have officially banned fracking in Broomfield, but the city still faces legal action and a possible election challenge the wake of the ban’s certification. On Thursday, the Broomfield canvass board certified the recount of Question 300, which bans fracking in Broomfield for five years. The matter, which was subject to an automatic recount because the margin of victory was so slim, passed by just 20 votes after the recount was completed Tuesday. The canvass board’s certification indicates the ban is official, but the future of fracking in Broomfield is still not clear. Broomfield faces a lawsuit from the Balanced Energy Coalition, a pro-fracking group, which alleges the elections division failed to provide legal access for BBEC election watchers throughout the controversial ballot-counting process.

Broomfield also anticipates the possibility that BBEC or another group could legally contest the election. Those who wish to contest the election have 10 days after certification to file that challenge, said Bill Tuthill, Broomfield city and county attorney. Broomfield also could face legal action from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which on Tuesday announced it was suing Fort Collins and Lafayette, two cities that passed anti-fracking measures on Election Day. It was not clear whether COGA would extend its lawsuit to Broomfield. Calls made to COGA were not immediately returned. Tuthill said several legal matters are still up in the air, but “as of right now, we have a charter amendment that bans fracking,” he said.

Tuesday night, just before the recount showed the anti-fracking measure passed by 20 votes, the Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition filed a lawsuit in Broomfield District Court. The lawsuit states BBEC watchers were “systematically denied access … to witness and verify ballots, envelopes and self-affirmations received before and after the election date,” and argues that several meetings regarding election processes took place behind closed doors, instead of being open to the public. The BBEC is seeking an injunction to stop the ban from taking effect until it can obtain “all information in election documents that is available to election judges,” such as vote logs, and access to what election workers talked about during the alleged closed-door sessions. Tuthill said Broomfield has given election watchers fair access to the election. Broomfield has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday as Broomfield was still completing its recount.

The anti-fracking measure is still considered certified, because the other two canvass board members, County Clerk Jim Candelarie and Joan Stern-Murahata, representing the majority of the three-person board, signed off on the recount total. [Emphasis added]

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