Boulder teens score legal victory against oil and gas industry

BOULDER, Colo. -- A group of Boulder teenagers is taking on the oil and gas industry head-on.

Most arguments against fracking have been shut down in the courts. But this effort -- spearheaded by 16-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez -- is gaining steam.

In February, Martinez led an anti-fracking rally on the steps of the State Capitol the day before his lawsuit to ban fracking was heard at the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Three judges handed down a 2-1 decision in favor of Martinez earlier Thursday.

“We won," Martinez said via Skype while out of state on a speaking tour. “This lawsuit is a huge step forward in the climate movement to show what young people are capable of, and how the face of activism and the face of action to address these problems is changing. It’s not just in the streets with picket signs, its taking these fights and struggles to the courts.”

The ruling calls for the state’s oil and gas conservation commission to consider the petition from Martinez’s group and stop issuing permits for new sites until an independent party proves fracking can be done without harming public health or environment.

“The fact of the matter is you can’t frack safely,” Martinez said. “It has been proven and we know that.”

While the ruling is being celebrated by the group of Boulder teens, it’s being criticized by the oil and gas industry.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association president and CEO Dan Haley said in a statement:

“Through the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has the statutory authority to regulate oil and gas development in Colorado. The Act has long been interpreted to encourage balanced oil and gas development in the state. A provision in this law further directs the COGCC to “prevent and mitigate adverse environmental impacts…to the extent necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources, taking into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility.” The ruling throws out decades of precedent encouraging this balancing test, and instead elevates environmental protection as the primary goal of the Act. Judge Booras’ dissenting opinion got it right by referencing this statutory direction afforded to the COGCC, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions referencing “an exhaustive set of rules and regulations to prevent waste…while protecting public health, safety, and welfare.” It’s clear the COGCC has employed this balancing act on numerous occasions as evidenced by Colorado’s comprehensive regulations, which are among the most stringent in that nation. For example, we were the first state in the country to disclose the chemicals in hydraulic fracturing, and to require pre- and post-drilling groundwater monitoring. Coloradans can see for themselves that protection of our environment is a key pillar in existing statute. We encourage the COGCC to appeal this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.”

Martinez said the group will restate its case to the COGCC and ask for more regulations to be put in place until further studies have been done.