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Judge strikes down Longmont's fracking ban

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LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — A state district judge struck down Longmont's voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing Thursday but stayed her decision while the city considers an appeal.

Judge D.D. Mallard ruled the ban conflicts with state regulations and Colorado's interest in efficiently developing oil and gas deposits.

"While the Court appreciates the Longmont citizens' sincerely-held beliefs about risks to their health and safety, the Court does not find this is sufficient to completely devalue the State's interest," Mallard wrote.

Longmont voters passed an amendment to the city charter in November 2012 that banned hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which involves blasting underground rock formations with water, sand and chemicals so oil and natural gas can escape. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, along with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, sued to overturn the ban.

Mallard noted that the state's interest in developing oil and gas, and Longmont's interest in banning drilling create an "irreconcilable conflict" in which state rules take precedence. She also pointed to a 1992 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that said cities can't entirely ban drilling but can regulate oil and gas development.

Longmont officials said late Thursday they were reviewing the city's legal options.

"I am disappointed that the court has struck down Longmont's fracking restrictions, which were initiated and approved by our citizens and became part of Longmont's home rule charter over a year and a half ago," Mayor Dennis Coombs said in a news release. "I have been pleased with our vigorous defense of Longmont's charter, and we are considering all our options moving forward."

Meanwhile, Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said his agency would continue to collaborate with local governments "to ensure our energy resources can be developed carefully and thoughtfully, in a way that protects people, communities and our environment."

The Department of Natural Resources oversees the state's oil and gas commission.

Mallard's ruling comes amid two pending drilling-related statewide ballot measures — one that would require oil and gas drilling to be 2,000 feet away from homes and businesses, and another that would create an environmental bill of rights.

The oil and gas industry says those measures would ban drilling, though supporters of the ballot measures disagree. Supporters have until Aug. 4 to gather signatures to put the measures on the November ballot.

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