Colorado State Supreme Court in a Landmark Ruling Favors Oil Industry over Environmental Concerns in the Martinez Case

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A news of great relief for Colorado’s oil and gas industry came on Monday as Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of oil and gas companies which after the decision won’t require environmental permits from Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC). The Martinez case which dragged on for years has seen some major ups and downs through its journey before coming to this decision.

The issue which started when Xiuhtezcatl Martinez an 18 year old student and environmental activist who in 2013 with the help of 6 other young students filed a petition to the COGCC which regulates all oil drillings in the state of Colorado. The petition asked the regulator that before issuing permits to drill oil and gas to corporations environmental impact assessment should be carried out by using scientifically demonstrable methods and by an independent third party to ensure that no environmental damage occurs. The commission rebuffed the petition by saying that their job is to balance environmental and industry concerns and not to give one more priority over other.

The young activists went to the trial court level but lost again. But they were far from being subdued, in 2017 a panel of Colorado Appeals Court judges in a landmark ruling for oil and gas industry ruled in favor of the activists and reversed the trial court’s ruling. The Appeals Court judges ruled in favor of compulsory environmental impact based permits based on a 41 word passage in the state law as following  :“utilization of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources’’.

The court said that the wording ‘in consistent with’ explicitly requires the state to consider environmental impact as a prerequisite for permit approvals. This came as a shock to the oil and gas industry, but the new ruling by the state Supreme Court reverses this judgment. The court said that the wording only suggests striking balance between competing interests and it should not be taken as an order of priority.

Martinez said that the ruling was not surprising at all but very disappointing indeed. The activist along with others have complained of gross and persistent neglect by state authorities to address the concerns of environmental activists. The ruling has been received differently by the opposing factions of the tussle mainly environmental groups and oil industry.

Members of the oil industry have welcomed the ruling which came as a major relief for them. Colorado Petroleum Council’s executive director Tracee Bentley said that the ruling is ‘positive for all Coloradans’ and expressed that the ruling will ensure development of energy in Colorado and United States.

As more and more people have expressed the inadequacy of the law to protect public safety and environment, Democratic lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation which will force COGCC to consider health and public safety in priority over others while doling out drilling permits.

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