Project Rulison lawsuit dismissed

A judge this week dismissed a lawsuit by residents and citizen groups seeking to force a state hearing over oil and gas drilling permits near the Project Rulison nuclear blast site.

Denver District Court Judge Larry Naves ruled Monday in favor of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA). The suit was brought against them by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, Western Colorado Congress, Cary and Ruth Weldon, and Wesley and Marcia Kent.

The plaintiffs contended the oil and gas commission’s rules that bar them from seeking a hearing over drilling-permit approvals violate state law.

The Weldons and Kents own property in the area of a 1969 underground nuclear blast carried out by the federal government south of Rulison in an unsuccessful experimental attempt to safely produce natural gas.

In recent years, energy companies increasingly drilled around the blast site. Some residents worry the operations could create health dangers by tapping areas of radioactive contamination.

Naves wrote that the plaintiffs received a thorough review of their concerns by Dave Neslin — then acting director and now director of the oil and gas commission — and Neslin concluded the risk to the public was “extremely low.”

“Therefore, plaintiffs were not injured by the Commission’s denial of a hearing,” Naves wrote.

Neslin said Thursday, “They may not be getting a hearing before the commission, but the staff has carefully considered their concerns.”

Luke Danielson, the plaintiffs’ attorney, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

However, Danielson continues to press the hearing question with the commission. He has filed several more hearing requests with the commission regarding other drilling-permit approvals in the Project Rulison area and other parts of the state, and Neslin has continued to turn him down based on the commission’s rules.

Those rules long have allowed local governments to seek hearings on permits.

New rules implemented

April 1 also give a blanket hearing right to the energy company seeking a permit and a limited one to the owner of the land in question.

The rules had granted a hearing right to the state Division of Wildlife and Department of Public Health and Environment, but the commission on Thursday revoked that right.

Naves wrote that state law doesn’t require the commission to grant a hearing to everyone requesting one. He also found that drilling-permit decisions are administrative rather than adjudicatory functions and thus don’t legally require a hearing.


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