Limits needed in well-permit process

It’s not difficult to comprehend why folks who live relatively close to the Rulison site where a nuclear test blast was detonated in 1969 want a greater voice in the proposed drilling of natural gas wells in that area.

Despite the substantial testing and protections put in place for drilling near the blast site, they fear the possibility that radiation from the site could somehow affect them.

But the case that was heard before the Colorado Supreme Court this week goes well beyond the relatively narrow issues in that case. It involves the legal term of “standing.” It goes to the heart of Colorado’s permitting process for oil and gas wells.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has taken a narrow view of who has standing to demand a hearing and present testimony before the commission on well-permit applications.

But several Rulison-area residents, along with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Western Colorado Congress, argued that the commission’s interpretation violates state law.

The case led to a Colorado Court of Appeals decision that said any person could compel a hearing by the commission on a well- permit application. However, as the Colorado Attorney General’s office noted to the Supreme Court, such an interpretation could mean the commission is deluged with hearing requests from people and groups all over the state who have little connection to the application in question.

Should an anti-drilling advocate in Boulder be able to demand a hearing on a routine drilling application in the Piceance Basin? Should people be able to use hearing requests just to slow down applications and thereby make drilling more difficult in Colorado?

The Supreme Court needs to establish meaningful requirements for who has standing to demand hearings on well-permit applications, rules that won’t needlessly gum up the application process.


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