Many Coloradoans are anxious to hear if the state’s Supreme Court is going to take up a ruling by a lower court that said citizens should be a priority when it comes to oil and gas drilling. KGNU’s Roz Brown interviewed panelists who participated recently at Boulder’s Shambhala Center as part of the organizations’ Salon on Climate Change.
The ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals in the Martinez Case said that the oil and gas industry needs to make public safety, health and the environment a prerequisite to drilling. Governor John Hickenlooper then ordered state regulators not to fight the court’s ruling. But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman ignored the Governor and filed an appeal supported by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Dan Leftwich is an attorney with Earth Guardian – the group representing plaintiffs in the case.
“The COGCC and industry groups have filed a request for an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court,” said Leftwich. “Earth Guardians plantiffs and other groups who want to oppose that appeal will have another 30 days to decide if they will fight it. The Colorado Supreme Court will then decide if it will take the case. If it doesn’t, the Colorado Court of Appeals decision in the case will stand.”
The oil and gas drilling issue takes on more importance following last month’s fatal house explosion in Firestone caused by a severed underground oil and gas industry pipeline. The explosion killed a homeowner and his brother-in-law and severely injured the wife of the homeowner. Leftwich believes the tragic accident is a turning point for the fracking issue.
“It exposes what’s really been happening including what this regulatory regime has brought us. By exposing the relationship with pipelines under homes, inadequate setbacks that allow wells 150-feet from houses, etc. And all of these problems are being exposed by the Firestone tragedy and opening up people’s eyes as to what’s really been going on.”
Joel Dyer, a reporter for the Boulder Weekly was also a panelist. He has written extensively on the topic of fracking and says the threat from fracking has been known for quite some time but citizens were told it was safe.
“Governor Hickenlooper just came out – as we knew he would – and said we looked at the wells since the explosion and it will never happen again,” said Dyer. “But what we know about wells is that s16 percent of the installed pipe fails at the time of installation and sixty-percent fails eventually. So it’s not that no one is in danger, it’s just a matter of time until there’s another explosion. I mean, 500-hundred year floods don’t come every five years – you can have two in a row. So to say everyone is safe because the wells were looked at, is crazy.
Dyer believes what the explosion exposed is a pathway to move forward.
“Local communities control how much setback is required,” said Dyer. “Local communities also have the right to make setbacks on flow lines. And you don’t have to raise a million dollars or gather 250-thousand signatures. You just have to put a thousand people at a city council meeting and tell them if they want to remain on council, they need to make it happen. It’s cheap, it’s fast and it’s doable. And I think most city councils on the Front Range would make it happen.”
Dyer doesn’t believe the Martinez case is as weak as some people think it is.
“What the three judge panel in the Martinez case found is that oil and gas companies don’t just need to be as safe as possible. The court said their first priority must be public safety and health and unless they can achieve that they can’t drill. So it flipped the way we’ve interpreted this for the last 25 years.”
Dyer believes if the Martinez case were to win it would become very difficult for gas and oil companies to continue drilling in neighborhoods. Especially with studies that show
fracking causes cancer, asthma and other health issues.
“All this stuff about jobs created by oil and gas companies being necessary to Colorado’s economy is complete crap,” said Dyer. “So we ran a grand experiment because we were told that if oil and gas drilling went away in Colorado our economy would collapse. Well, the industry collapsed three years ago – it went away and our economy grew at three percent.”
The Colorado Supreme Court has not said whether it will take up the Appeals Court ruling.