Nov. 22–Former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett is representing drilling operator 8 North in a lawsuit brought by Boulder County against the company, prompting accusations from a state representative-elect and an anti-fracking activist that the litigator turned his back on a promise he made when leaving public office.
Boulder County has two suits against 8 North moving through the courts, and Garnett’s Denver-based firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is representing the company — which is a subsidiary of Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas — in both.
Garnett, though, is only working for the firm to represent 8 North in the second suit filed by the county Sept. 25.
That complaint alleges the company’s plans to locate a multi-well pad on a Boulder County conservation easement just east of the county line in Weld County violates terms of the easement, and that the mineral leases 8 North is using to establish its right to drain oil an gas from 2,720 acres of mostly Boulder County open space prohibit their corresponding minerals from being pooled into such a large drilling project.
Garnett in February, just before leaving the DA’s Office after nearly nine years at its helm, told the Daily Camera he didn’t intend to represent oil and gas companies litigating with Boulder County cities.
“I understand why fracking is abhorrent and do not want to use my legal talent in a manner so directly adverse to my neighbors,” Garnett said in a lengthy interview. “… Unless the political climate and the perception of fracking in Boulder County changes dramatically, I will not represent an oil or gas company litigating against a Boulder County municipality over oil and gas issues. Period.”
Garnett on Wednesday pointed out Boulder County is not a municipality.
“The issues in this case are really interesting. … The claims made by Boulder County in the case I’m representing 8 North on are pretty broad. … I think it’s appropriate representation to do and appropriate to let the courts sort out,” Garnett said.
State House District 12-elect Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Boulder County, characterized Garnett’s willingness to defend an oil and gas company against a county complaint versus a municipal complaint as a meaningless distinction.
“If you look at what he said before, he said he did not want to be legally representing an oil and gas entity versus a municipality. The way we look at it is, if you live near open space, your neighborhood is a target (for drilling). It doesn’t matter if the neighborhood is in a city or the county,” Jaquez Lewis said.
“If you live near open space, according to the rules we have and the way the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been working, you may be a target for drilling, and that’s not acceptable anymore,” she added.
Kate Christensen, a leader of Lafayette anti-drilling group Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, was shocked to hear Garnett was representing 8 North.
She likened Garnett representing 8 North in the suit to former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar representing drilling operator Anadarko Petroleum Corp. following last year’s fatal home explosion in Firestone that killed two men and that was caused by a leaky flow line attached to a well owned by the company.
Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said the county has no comment about Garnett’s involvement in the case.
Garnett in court filings for 8 North has asked for an expedited declaratory judgment in the company’s favor by Boulder County District Judge Nancy Woodruff Salomone, who is presiding over the suit.
“The role of conservation easements in protecting scenic and recreational values of properties is well-established in Colorado. However, there is no legitimate argument that conservation easements can be weaponized to prevent horizontal oil and gas extraction far below the surface in a manner that has no impact on scenic or environmental values,” an 8 North motion filed last month states.
Boulder County disagrees that expedited declaratory judgment is appropriate, instead asking for a jury trial and wide-ranging divulgence of information from 8 North regarding contacts with surface property owners of the drilling area and materials related to the oil and gas leases on the property.
“The operators’ interest or urgency in attempting to realize a profit from the proposed mineral extraction activities do not outweigh the county’s property rights, contract rights and conservation interests,” Boulder County’s attorneys stated to the court earlier this month to oppose declaratory judgement in the case.
Salomone had not ruled on the matter as of Wednesday, online court records show.
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