May 10, 2013
A citizens group said Thursday that it has sued the city of Colorado Springs in an effort to move forward a petition to amend the City Charter to ban oil and gas drilling in the city.
The Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights filed the lawsuit in 4th Judicial District Court in response to the city's Initiative Title Setting Review Board's refusal to affix a title to the petition. The title is needed before signatures can be gathered; the board rejected the petition, saying it violates the city's single-subject rule.
The proposed charter amendment, which the group wants to see on the November ballot, would prohibit any company from engaging 'in the extraction of natural gas or oil, ' including the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The proposed amendment cites the right to pure water and clean air and soil.
City officials offered no response Thursday. Jarred Rego, of the city's public relations office, said Title Board members do not comment on their decisions.
Fracking forces a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into subsurface rock formations under high pressure, creating fissures from which petroleum products can be extracted. Two Houston-based companies, Ultra Resources and Hilcorp Energy, have fracked at sites in eastern El Paso County.
Ultra owns 18,000 acres of the Banning Lewis Ranch on the east side of Colorado Springs, but has not drilled there and has suspended plans for drilling after results from exploratory wells proved 'disappointing. ' Hilcorp has not released the results of its drilling. The previous City Council, meanwhile, rejected proposed drilling regulations in a tie vote this year.
Dave Gardner, spokesman for the community rights group, said his group felt it was necessary to move forward with the petition despite the lack of drilling.
'Another company could see the same data and interpret it differently, ' he said.
Colorado Springs Citzens for Community Rights challenges the legality of the city's single-subject rule, arguing it imposes 'a significant restriction on the right of citizens to amend the City Charter. ' But the group also argues the proposed amendment meets the standard since it has one purpose: to prevent oil and gas extraction in the city.
But the amendment includes several prohibitions, including forbidding Colorado Springs Utilities or any business or person from selling water for the purpose of drilling.
Gardner said breaking the petition down into separate subjects would have made the process and future amendments 'very cumbersome. '
'That runs the risk of confusing the public more, ' he said, 'rather than having the public vote on one fracking option. '
Even if the group is ultimately successful and residents vote to ban oil and gas drilling within the city, their efforts could prove futile. Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, has stated it is the state's position that no person or local government can prevent a person or company from using their surface or mineral rights and that outright bans on fracking are not legal.
The lawsuit by the community rights group was filed with the help of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Gardner said.
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.