Good Industry, Bad Industry: Colorado’s Oil and Gas Legal Case

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I’m posting this as an example of a court case that doesn’t involve the FS nor public land management but does relate to environmental policy. In some respects, it’s even odder than our FS cases as it apparently is looking to re-regulate an industry with new criteria.

This case, taken as reported by Colorado Politics here, is interesting in the light of environmental requirements for industrial activities.

In the 2013 request, the group of teenagers asked the state to deny drilling permits “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 group of teenagers – with help from attorneys that represent environmental groups – took the case to Denver District Court, which sided with the state. The case was appealed, with attorneys arguing that the lower court misinterpreted the mission of the COGCC.

But why stop with the oil and gas industry? It seems to me that independent third party organizations could certify.. the outdoor industry (think of all that driving to outdoor sites), craft breweries, and so on. Perhaps Colorado should not have legalized marijuana until it met the same bar- but of course the marijuana industry uses lots of energy provided by … electrical utilities..using coal, natural gas, and renewable sources. Here’s an article about the environmental impacts of growing operations. And here’s one on the marijuana industry pushing back on control over pesticides -with potential serious harm to workers and users. Here’s another one on energy use of the developing industry- it’s really just getting started in many states.

The curious thing is that natural gas a better bridge to lower carbon energy sources than coal. It seems to me and many other that a bridge is necessary- and there are no obvious other contenders around. Energy is necessary, to raise cannabis and brew beer, and for a variety of other uses like running computers, growing crops, heating your house, and so on and I don’t see us transitioning immediately to carbon-free sources.

I guess that’s what’s odd about court cases as a method for policy development- individual cases tend to be discrete and unique (and in this case related to the mission of the Oil and Gas Commission), whereas “what kind of activities will Colorado allow that impact the environment” is a much broader question. It’s one, in my mind, better settled by open dialogue among the people and their elected officials.

5 thoughts on “Good Industry, Bad Industry: Colorado’s Oil and Gas Legal Case”

  1. What good is an open dialogue among the people and their elected officials without the threat of a stick to wack the participants with when they stray from the boundaries of the socially accepted dialogue?

    You define the courts role too narrowly. The legal precedents set by the courts outline the parameters of socially accepted dialogue. The individual judgement is the stick that penalizes those that stray.

  2. “what kind of activities will Colorado allow that impact the environment” is a much broader question. It’s one, in my mind, better settled by open dialogue among the people and their elected officials.”

    I agree with the Boulder D.A.: “Political pressure with regard to court opinions and decisions is rarely a good idea and would be much better focused at electing a legislature more inclined to listen to the public’s concerns.”

    Sometimes a court’s role is to do damage control until a legislature is moved to act.

  3. “Sometimes a court’s role is to do damage control until a legislature is moved to act.”

    Or damage control until the public is moved to force the legislature to act. Because we all know the two often differ in their priorities. I believe the New York State fracking laws follow this example: 1) Fracking corp loses challenge by local group in court that brings widespread publicity to the dangers of fracking, 2) state legislature tries to over-ride court, 3) public flips the hell out after learning of dangers thru publicity, 4) state legislature makes laws essentially conforming with the courts ruling.

  4. But that assumes that courts and lawyers know best.. in this case, no action of humans could pass the bar required. It’s an artifact of the language in the Oil and Gas commission. In terms of “learning of the dangers” Colorado did that through a study with our Department of Public Health

    In this Post editorial decrying “science denier” Congressman Jones says, “Since CDPHE is charged with protecting the health of the people of Colorado, this study should use the precautionary principle that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous,”

    Which is along the lines of my original point- Coloradans legalized marijuana with very little knowledge of environmental and health effects (let alone social)- absolutely not precautionary! Yet some claim that regulation of other industries MUST be absolutely precautionary. And that’s an industry that’s already highly regulated unlike MJ, for which we are all still figuring it out. These seem to me to be patently unjust policies regarding environmental and health impacts.

    Since I live in a county with oil and gas, marijuana grows, and wind energy impacts, I’d like them all to be appropriately regulated and not “gotten rid of” simply because each is not absolutely impact-free. PS I believe legalizing marijuana is a good thing in general- I’m using it as an example to point out the differences in regulatory/precautionary approaches.

    I don’t understand why natural gas, that has a variety of good things about it, including fewer carbon emissions, the ability of the US to be energy independent, and providing jobs, has become such an enemy to (certain) environmental groups.

  5. “The COGCC’s mission has been set by the legislature to foster “responsible, balanced” energy development “in a manner consistent with public health, safety, and environmental and wildlife impacts.””

    The courts and lawyers are interpreting this law. Following Eric’s model, we should expect that if the current court holding is upheld, the oil and gas industry will seek a statutory change in the mission, and if they do, voters could replace the legislature. (Of course it rarely happens that environmental issues determine who people vote for.)

    Citizens who don’t like the effects of marijuana grows may react by asking for legislation. It has seemed to me that legislation is almost always reactive in the first instance (and then often reactive again to how it has been applied).


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