Citizens’ groups went to court today to defend Colorado’s new rules for safer oil and gas drilling, saying the industry’s attempt to overturn the recently adopted law would endanger drinking water, air quality, hunting and fishing, and the state’s economy.
A coalition of regional, state and national groups filed a motion in Denver District Court to intervene in the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s lawsuit against the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The commission developed the rules, which were ratified by the Legislature in a law that was signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in April, only to be challenged by the industry group a few weeks later.
Filing the motion were the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Western Colorado Congress, San Juan Citizens Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Oil and Gas Accountability Project and The Wilderness Society, represented by Earthjustice. “These rules help protect the interests of citizen groups’ members in numerous ways, including by protecting drinking water, limiting chemical fumes, improving standards for waste pits and cleanups, and protecting wildlife and open space,” the motion said.
“The new rules provide balanced, common-sense protections for our state, so that as Colorado develops its energy resources, we also safeguard the clean air and water, abundant wildlife, and scenic landscapes that are the backbone of Colorado’s tourism and recreation economy,” added Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition.
A key part of the new rules is a first-in-the-nation requirement that under certain circumstances drilling companies must disclose their use of toxic chemicals, which are routinely injected into wellheads in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracing. The oil and gas industry won the right to keep their chemical mixtures secret in 2005, when the government exempted fracing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) is preparing legislation that would remove the exemption.
The citizens’ groups argue that the state went through an extensive process of consulting citizens, cities and counties, and businesses in every corner of the state before developing the rules, going through the most extensive rulemaking hearing in the Commission’s history.
“Everyone, from ranchers and hunters to the oil and gas industry, had ample opportunity for input,” said Michael Freeman, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the citizens’ groups through the long rulemaking process. “The state developed a detailed analysis of the costs and benefits of the new rules, but the industry refused to participate in developing that analysis. Now their suit claims the analysis was faulty. It’s time for the industry to respect the process, accept the outcome and show that they know how to be good neighbors.”