Oct. 15–The Colorado Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over how seriously the state agency that regulates oil and gas development must consider public safety and the environment when issuing new drilling permits.
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in March 2017 that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must prioritize the protection of public health and the environment when deciding whether to allow new drilling. Previously, the commission tried to balance negative impacts on public health and safety with the benefits of development.
If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s decision, oil and gas development inside Front Range residential areas would be greatly diminished, Bruce Baizel, energy program director for the advocacy group Earthworks, previously told the Denver Post.
“If this Colorado Court of Appeals decision is upheld, it will be hard to have any drilling inside Front Range residential areas,” he said.
The case began in 2013 when Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Boulder and other teenagers asked the commission to consider a rule that would mandate that the state could only issue new permits for drilling if “the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”
The commission held a hearing on the proposed rule in 2014 and denied it. The teens and the more than a dozen advocacy groups backing them then appealed the ruling, sending it to the courts and sparking a debate about the commission’s priorities and mission.
The Denver District Court ruled in favor of the commission, but after another appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the teens and their allies in March 2017. The commission, with the help of Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, then appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Martinez and his allies, the commission does not have to adopt the rule the group originally proposed in 2013. The commission, however, will have to reconsider its process for permitting.
The arguments come as Colorado residents continue to grapple with the future of oil and gas in the state.
Voters will decide next month whether to increase the amount of space required between occupied buildings and new oil and gas wells, another move that the commission said would cripple the industry. Communities across the state continue to challenge energy companies that want to drill in their neighborhoods. And fallout continues after a house exploded in Firestone and killed two when odorless gas seeped into the home from a pipeline running underground from a nearby Anadarko Petroleum well.
The Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Martinez case at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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