DENVER – Democrats in state government are looking to pass new laws limiting oil and gas development after the Colorado Supreme Court found in favor of the state’s oil and gas commission in a case brought by environmentalists.
Xuihtezcatl Martinez and a handful of others sued the COGCC in 2017 when the board declined to implement rules they requested. Those rules would have limited the issuance of drilling permits only when oil companies proved that the drilling will, “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.”
In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that the Commission acted properly.
“The Commission correctly determined that, under the applicable language of the Act, it could not properly adopt the rule proposed by Respondents,” the opinion reads.
That ruling prompted a flurry of media statements from the Governor, State Representatives and Senators, and the Attorney General.
“While I’m disappointed by today’s ruling, it only highlights the need to work with the Legislature and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to more safely develop our state’s natural resources and protect our citizens from harm,” said Governor Jared Polis.
“It is well beyond time for us to protect Coloradans and our clean air and water,” said State Senator Mike Foote who has authored legislation last year that would have established setbacks for drilling operations from schools.
“I am confident that my colleagues and I will come forward with legislation to do exactly that,” he continued.
“This ruling puts the decision back into the hands of lawmakers to take action and we are committed to addressing this concern this legislative session,” said House Speaker KC Becker.
Rep. Dominique Jackson added, “We will continue working together to protect the health and safety of all Coloradans when it comes to oil and gas operations.”
These legislative promises follow an opening day to 2019 General Assembly that saw dozens of protestors demanding stricter regulation of the oil and gas industry. Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, said she wants lawmakers to take action.
“If our policymakers fail to act, we’re prepared to go back to the ballot with another initiative in 2020,” she said.
Foster warned that many Coloradoans may soon be confronted with land use battles in their communities over oil exploration.
“There are over 6,200 drilling permits currently awaiting approval at the state level right now and most of those are in urban areas,” she said.
Amy Oliver Cooke, the Director Energy and Environmental Policy for the Independence Institute, celebrated the ruling.
“It is great news for energy development in Colorado and the 150,000 jobs that are associated with oil and gas,” Cooke said.
She worries that state lawmakers may go too far in their zeal to restrain the booming oil and gas industry.
“Polis has committed to signing a bill that mirrors what the Martinez case would have done,” Cooke said.
Republican Senator Jerry Sonnenberg also praised the high court’s decision saying that it reaffirms that the requirements and duties carried out by the COGCC are consistent with current law.
“The oil and gas industry has done an excellent job of providing the people of Colorado energy while protecting our environment, and the safeguards put in place by the COGCC enable this state to continue to be one of the top places to live and raise a family,” Sonnenberg said.
The COGCC was represented in court by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, pointed out that the case was appealed to the high court by his predecessor, Republican Cynthia Coffman.
“Moving forward, I will work with the Commission and other state agencies to ensure that oil and gas development in Colorado is consistent with the public health, safety, and environment,” Weiser said.
He pledged to provide legal advice to the Commission as it develops appropriate protections and evaluates particular applications.
“Furthermore, I am committed to working with local communities—as they enter into surface use agreements and memoranda of understanding, for example—to provide technical assistance as they seek to protect the public health, the safety of their residents, and their local environment,” Weiser said.