Colorado’s highest court hears arguments on oil and gas case

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday afternoon in a case with the potential to upend the way the state regulates the oil and gas industry.

The five-year-old fight hinges on a question of whether the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must verify that new drilling operations do not negatively impact public safety and health prior to issuing permits.

The Martinez case, as it is known, was brought in 2013 by a group of six teenagers, including Boulder brothers Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Itzcuahtli Roske-Martinez. The teens, along with anti-fracking interests, want the COGCC to make human and wildlife wellbeing a priority, not simply one of a host of factors, when deciding on permits.

The commission has argued that state lawmakers tasks the COGCC with balancing wellbeing with mineral owners’ property rights and other oil and gas industry considerations.

Reversing a lower court decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals last year sided with the children. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, on behalf of industry representatives with the Colorado Petroleum Association and American Petroleum Institute, then appealed the decision to the state’s high court.

Julia Olson, executive director of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, argued Tuesday on behalf of Martinez and the other respondents.

“There isn’t any discretion for the (COGCC) to balance human health on one hand and oil and gas drilling on the other,” she said.

“The statute is clear that oil and gas development cannot harm public health, safety and welfare,” regardless of the degree of benefit mineral rights owners or oil operators might gain from drilling, Olson said.

Colorado Solicitor General Frederick R. Yarger represented the petitioners in Tuesday’s arguments.

He said the “extraordinary request” made by the opposing side would “drastically change the way the commission regulates oil and gas operations across Colorado.”

While the COGCC “has to consider these public health impacts,” Yarger said, the commission  “can’t adopt a no-harm or zero-impact standard” when issuing drilling permits.

The seven-justice Colorado Supreme Court is not expected to issue a ruling on the case for months.

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday afternoon in a case with the potential to upend the way the state regulates the oil and gas industry.

The five-year-old fight hinges on a question of whether the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must verify that new drilling operations do not negatively impact public safety and health prior to issuing permits.

The Martinez case, as it is known, was brought in 2013 by a group of six teenagers, including Boulder brothers Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Itzcuahtli Roske-Martinez. The teens, along with anti-fracking interests, want the COGCC to make human and wildlife wellbeing a priority, not simply one of a host of factors, when deciding on permits.

The commission has argued that state lawmakers tasks the COGCC with balancing wellbeing with mineral owners’ property rights and other oil and gas industry considerations.

Reversing a lower court decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals last year sided with the children. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, on behalf of industry representatives with the Colorado Petroleum Association and American Petroleum Institute, then appealed the decision to the state’s high court.

Julia Olson, executive director of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, argued Tuesday on behalf of Martinez and the other respondents.

“There isn’t any discretion for the (COGCC) to balance human health on one hand and oil and gas drilling on the other,” she said.

“The statute is clear that oil and gas development cannot harm public health, safety and welfare,” regardless of the degree of benefit mineral rights owners or…