Photo credit: The Denver Business Journal
A decision by the Colorado Supreme Court that’s being viewed as a win for the oil and gas industry may provide further impetus for bills to restrict energy development in the state legislature and more calls for a de facto drilling ban. It also means the Colorado energy industry must continue its open communication with communities across the state.
Yesterday, the state Supreme Court reversed an earlier lower court ruling that would have required the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry, to halt approval of new drilling permits unless it can be shown that drilling won’t have any adverse impact on public health. The case, COGCC vs. Martinez, has been widely followed as an indicator of the future of Colorado’s energy industry.
The court’s decision follows the defeat in November of Proposition 112, a ballot initiative that would have increased setbacks between oil and gas wells and any occupied structure to at least 2,500 feet. Colorado voters rejected the more restrictive regulation by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. The Supreme Court’s Martinez decision likely will be viewed as another defeat for environmentalists.
During the 2018 legislative session, several bills that would have tightened restrictions on oil and gas production made it through the Democrat-controlled House but died in the Republican-ruled state Senate. Now, with Democrat majorities in both houses of the Colorado General Assembly and Gov. Jared Polis signaling an intent to support more local control, it’s likely that bills restricting oil and gas development in Colorado will become law.
Anti-drilling activists already have called on Gov. Polis to impose a nine-month moratorium on all new wells, to allow time for more research on public health impacts. Following the Martinez ruling, they’re likely to redouble their efforts to secure a de facto ban.
While Colorado’s energy industry may be relieved by the Supreme Court’s Martinez decision, oil and gas companies operating in Colorado – especially in heavily populated, rapidly growing Front Range communities – should plan no let-up in efforts to explain to concerned communities how energy can be produced safely and responsibly without adverse impacts on public health and the environment. At Linhart PR, we partner with several upstream and midstream oil and gas clients. We believe that a respectful dialogue among the industry, state and local regulators and the people of Colorado is the key to the industry’s viability in an increasingly challenging environment.