State high court to consider Rulison well case

The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether residents are entitled to seek a state hearing over oil and gas drilling permit applications.

The court’s decision comes after the Colorado Court of Appeals last year ruled that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission shouldn’t have denied landowners a hearing over proposed drilling near the Project Rulison underground nuclear blast site.

Plaintiffs Cary and Ruth Weldon, and Wesley and Marcia Kent, along with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Western Colorado Congress, contend that commission rules barring residents from directly seeking a hearing over drilling permit approvals violate state laws. Currently they must ask Garfield County to intervene on their behalf.

Garfield County commissioners on Monday decided to file another brief on the plaintiffs’ behalf.

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. Several companies have begun drilling in the area, prompting concerns about the potential to release radioactive contaminants into water or air.

The oil and gas commission has contended that requiring the types of hearings sought by the plaintiffs would overwhelm it. The appeals court held that commission director David Neslin’s consideration of the plaintiffs’ concerns in lieu of a hearing was insufficient.

The high court said in a March 21 announcement that it will consider whether the appeals court erred by substituting its interpretation of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act for the commission’s, regarding when to hold hearings.

It also will decide whether the appeals court erred “by basing its decision on its interpretation of a single sentence of a comprehensive legislative scheme rather than construing the Act as a whole and without considering the consequences of its construction or the overall goal of the statutory scheme.”


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