Colorado must protect health & environment before allowing fracking, court rules
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision on fracking, siding with a group of teenage plaintiffs who argued that the state must protect the health and environment of its citizens before allowing oil and gas drilling in the state.
"We, therefore, conclude that the commission erred in interpreting [the Oil and Gas Conservation Act] as requiring a balance between development and public health, safety and welfare,"stated the three-judge appeals court in its 2-1 decision on Thursday.
"The clear language of the act... mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources."
The case arose in 2013 when Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Boulder, and five other teenagers, all members of the Earth Guardians, asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to consider a new rule.
They proposed that Colorado not issue any new permits for oil and gas drilling “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”
In 2014, the COGCC held a hearing on the request and then denied it, arguing it contradicted and was beyond its authority.
The teenagers, with more than a dozen advocacy groups, then sued in Martinez v Colorado Oil and Gas. The Denver District Court ruled in favor of the COGCC and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. The teenagers appealed, arguing that District Judge Eric Elliff misinterpreted the plain language of lawmakers’ mandate to the COGCC, and erred in denying the proposed rule on drilling.
The ruling does not mean the COGCC must adopt the teenagers’ proposal to restrict new drilling, however. It means the COGCC illegally rejected it and sends the case back to the district court.
“We disagree with the majority and believe the District Court and the dissenting opinion have it right,” said COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman, according to the Denver Post. “We are evaluating whether to appeal this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.”
Environmental advocacy group Earthworks lauded the ruling as backup for towns and cities weighing measures to increase protection of health and the environment.
“This shifts health, safety and welfare concerns above development-as-usual permitting,” Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel told The Denver Post. “Now the state of Colorado, after removing communities’ power to ban fracking and drilling themselves, might have to effectively ban fracking inside cities to protect residents’ health.”