Federal Court Rules Local Fracking Bans Unconstitutional

By Karen Crummy

Here in Colorado we’re no stranger to court battles over fracking bans.

U.S. District Court in New Mexico Rules  Local Fracking Bans Unconstitutional Last year a Larimer County judge overturned Fort Collins’ five-year ban on fracking. A Boulder County judge tossed out similar bans in both Longmont and Lafeyette. Colorado state courts have sent a strong message to fracktivists: local fracking bans are unconstitutional.

And earlier this month, a federal court agreed with Colorado courts. The U.S. District Court in New Mexico became the first federal court to rule on local fracking bans. U.S. District Court Judge James O. Browning found the ban on fracking passed by Mora County, New Mexico conflicted with state law and violated the U.S. Constitution.

Not familiar with this case? Here’s the scenario: In 2013, activists persuaded voters in Mora County to ban fracking, putting the county’s rule of law ahead of business interests and federal and state permits.  In response, Shell Western Exploration Production Inc. challenged the ruling in court, contending the ordinance robbed the company of $1 million in drilling leases.

Judge Browning wrote, “A county cannot decide when federal preemptive law applies and when it does not.”  Such actions violate the first and fifth amendments and the supremacy clause, which provides that federal law preempts state and local laws.

If this ruling is challenged, the case will be kicked to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals, which has jurisdiction over Colorado.  And as fracktivists push forward 2016 ballot measures, this ruling has the potential to disrupt their entire campaign.

Bottom line: the Constitution protects individual property rights. No Coloradan should be deprived of his or her right to develop his or her natural resources.


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