Hot Sheet

In divisive lawsuit over oil and gas drilling, one local government stays on the sidelines

Author: Dan Njegomir - June 29, 2017 - Updated: June 29, 2017

drillingA pump jack works off state highway 119 near Firestone, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

The much-reported Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission case has divided Colorado state government. Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is challenging a controversial ruling in the case by the Colorado Court of Appeals and is taking it to the Colorado Supreme Court; Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is downplaying the appellate court decision and saying the state should let it stand.

The oil and gas industry sides with Coffman and fears the ruling could shut down new drilling; environmental groups probably wouldn’t mind if it did — and are siding with Hickenlooper.

As for the La Plata County Commission? It has decided discretion is the better part of valor and is keeping out of the fight. It seems the southwest Colorado county has partisans on both sides — commissioners heard from them at a Tuesday meeting — and the commission doesn’t want to fuel a local spat over what is for now a state issue. Reports the Durango Herald:

La Plata County Commissioners on Tuesday had several options. They could have approved a petition that simply stated they wanted the Supreme Court to hear the case, or they could have approved a petition and sided with either Martinez or the COGCC.

But when La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt’s motion to join the petition in support of Martinez failed 1-2, the board ultimately took no action on the matter.

The case involves several Boulder teens as plaintiffs, backed by environmental groups, who sued the state after the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission declined the group’s proposal to use a new approach in approving or denying drilling permits. The proposal would require that drilling permits be denied by the state, “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 Herald notes:

Most of those who attended the packed La Plata County board room opposed the Boulder teens’ effort, claiming that if additional regulations are placed on an already declining industry, there could be a risk of losing local jobs and tax revenues.

Yet, some other citizens showed up to express a need for greater safeguards on drilling. The bottom line, though, is that the county eventually may have to get involved:

Ultimately, Commissioner Julie Westendorff said it’s likely the Supreme Court will hear the COGCC’s petition, and that the matter is likely to come up again as its decision will have an impact on La Plata County.

“Regardless of which side wins, the implications of that decision will have an impact on our county,” she said. “(If the Supreme Court hears it), then we probably will need to weigh in.”

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.