Energy industry, environmentalists react to Colorado Supreme Court ruling on drill permits

Alex Zorn/Glenwood Post Independent
A large drilling rig sits on BLM land outside Parachute, CO on July 13, 2007.
File photo

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday sided with state regulators and the energy industry, ruling that a plea by a group of Front Range teenagers to make public health a top priority in issuing oil and gas permits will not result in a rule change.

The case, Martinez v. Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, began several years ago when a group of young adults asked the COGCC to stop issuing drilling permits unless it can be proven that the drilling would not harm Colorado’s air, water, wildlife and public health.

The state’s high court praised the young activists for pursuing their goal of wanting to protect the health of Colorado citizens and Colorado’s environment. However, their request to prevent the COGCC from issuing any drilling permits unless it could be proven that no harm would be done to humans, the natural environment or the climate was denied.

The decision received praise from industry representatives and pushback from various conservation and citizen groups in Garfield County and across Colorado.

“Today’s outcome is positive for all Coloradans,” Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley said in a press release.

“The court was right to deny a single out-of-state interest group — one that advocates for ending all energy development across the country — the ability to rewrite our state’s laws,” Bentley said in reference to similar cases involving pleas by young adults in other states.

“This case has dragged on for over five years, and it’s time to focus on uniting to encourage energy development in the United States, and, specifically, in Colorado,” Bentley said.

Likewise, West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Eric Carlson said he was pleased with the court’s decision and praised the industry’s stakeholder process.

However, Conservation Colorado Executive Kelly Nordi demanded change from the COGCC and Colorado Legislature, calling the decision “yet another reminder that we need to tilt the balance back in favor of Coloradans’ health and safety.

“With a new administration in place, we look forward to working with Governor Polis, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and legislative leaders to reform this broken system and put our communities first.”


The court decision came just three days after the COGCC gave Ursa’s Phase II plans in Battlement Mesa final approval last Friday. Ursa consultant and former VP of Business Operations Don Simpson said the A Pad was the final piece that needed approval, which it received.

He said that a starting date has not been set for construction but that the time line will likely be similar to the company’s Phase I operations in Battlement Mesa, which moved into its production phase last year.

Phase I took a little over a year, according to Simpson. The A Pad was approved Friday for 25 wells.

Battlement Concerned Citizens Chairman Dave Devanney decried the decision on the local gas wells.

“Approving this project, in addition to the 52 wells already in place, will only increase the health risks to the residents of Battlement Mesa and make it a less desirable place to live,” Devanney said. “The approval of the A Pad makes it clear the regulatory process is not working to protect people and the environment.”

He added that the Supreme Court decision Monday “adds insult to injury for residents dealing with oil and gas development in their communities. The local and state government officials who are supposed to protect citizens have let us down.”

“These two decisions make it clear that the law is just wrong and rigged to support the industry,” Grand Valley Citizens Alliance chairwoman Leslie Robinson said. “At this point, it is clear we need an overhaul of the COGCC and the regulatory system of the industry in order to make policy to protect the people.”

Specifically, the case before the Supreme Court Monday asked that permits be denied, “unless 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 COGCC initially denied the request and was supported in a district court ruling. But, after a reversal in the Colorado Court of Appeals, the case was sent to the Colorado Supreme Court.

On Monday, the high court determined that the commission properly engaged in the rulemaking process and did not have to further consider the new laws originally proposed by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and other plaintiffs.

Among the reasons the court presented was that “the commission correctly determined that … it could not properly adopt the rule proposed by the respondents.”

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