Longmont City Council members voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to state their opposition to a proposed Colorado law that would make local governments liable for paying oil and gas mineral rights holders who lose income because of bans on local hydraulic fracturing — or "fracking" — or oil and gas moratoriums.
Councilwoman Bonnie Finley dissented from the majority, saying the measure — Windsor Republican Rep. Perry Buck's House Bill 17-1124 — "will die" anyway, in the House State Affairs Committee that's scheduled to hear it Wednesday afternoon.
So, "we don't need to take a position on it," Finley said.
Finley questioned whether mineral rights owners and royalty holders cannot already try to pursue legal action against a municipality or county that tries to impose a ban on the hydraulic fracturing process or that enacts a moratorium on oil and gas development.
Fracking is the process of injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to free up underground oil and gas deposits.
But City Attorney Eugene Mei said he did not know of any current case law that's held that fracking bans or moratoriums are compensable "takings" of private property rights.
Councilman Brian Bagley said mineral rights aren't actually worth anything until oil and gas is actually taken out of the ground.
Assistant City Manager Sandra Seader said there is some concern that if Buck's bill were to become law, its requirement that local governments compensate mineral rights holders for lost income during oil and gas exploration prohibitions or moratoriums might "spill over" into other attacks on other local attempts to regulate about what kinds of oil and gas facilities are allowed within a jurisdiction, and where.
Buck said in a Monday interview that she expected the Democratic-controlled House committee to kill her bill, since she'd had two similar measures die in that committee in previous years.
However, Buck said she introduced this year's mineral-rights compensation bill to continue to send a message about how she thinks local oil and gas development moratoriums and bans violate private property rights.
Mayor Dennis Coombs, Bagley, Councilman Jeff Moore and Councilwomen Polly Christensen and Joan Peck voted to oppose Buck's bill. Councilman Gabe Santos joined Finley against taking that position.
The council's discussion of the oil and gas bill did not include a public hearing. Earlier in Tuesday night's meeting, however, during the meeting's public-comment period, Karen Dike thanked the council for considering taking a stand against the bill.
Dike, a board member of the local group Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, had unsuccessfully urged the council last October to impose a one-year moratorium on fracking, saying at the time that the city's 2012 oil and gas regulations need to be updated.
On Tuesday night, Dike cited recent studies that she said have shown an increase in cases of leukemia in children living in areas where fracking has occurred.
She suggested there are many things the Legislature should be doing for Coloradans and that a bill proposing oil-and-gas mineral-rights compensation should be "at the bottom of the list."
The Longmont council members were unanimous in separate Tuesday night votes stating the council's positions on several other bills pending in the Legislature.
They declared support, for example, for a bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, and Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, that would give counties four more years in which they can transfer county budgets' general-fund money into road and bridge fund accounts to help pay for ongoing expenses of repairs and replacements of roads and bridges damaged or destroyed in the September 2013 floods.
The Longmont City Council voted to support a bill that would scale back the length advisement of defendants' rights that municipal judges now must make to people appearing in court on minor traffic infractions. However, the council voted its opposition to a bill that would eliminate a municipal judge's current power to cancel the driver's license of a defendant who fails to appear in court for certain traffic-related violations or who has failed to comply with other court orders.
John Fryar: 303-684-5211, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jfryartc
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