Arguments for a Balance: Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

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Joseph Kmetz

Colorado is a state of diverse industries including finance, real estate, agriculture, tourism, and natural resources. Alongside vital industries such as tourism, oil and natural gas development contributes to Colorado’s economy to a substantial degree. In a study in 2014, researchers at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business estimated that oil and gas contributed $31.7 billion to the Colorado economy and supported 102,700 jobs. Growth in both population and in oil and gas development along the Colorado Front Range has ripened the ground for conflict. One source of conflict is that many surface owners do not own the minerals underlying their land; mineral owners have an implied easement over the surface owners’ land to explore, produce, and develop the mineral estate. Although many oil and gas companies in Colorado compensate surface owners for drilling on their land, it is not a statutory requirement. Other conflicts arise from the temporary noise, light, and odor associated with oil and natural gas development. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulates oil and gas operations “to the extent necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare . . . taking into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility.” In Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Colorado Supreme Court will consider whether the state interest in oil and gas development should be balanced with the “protection of public health, safety, and welfare,” or whether these must be protected as a prerequisite to oil and gas development in the state. This Article will suggest a standard that balances oil and gas development with these important public values is workable, preserves the integrity of the judicial system, and respects the role of natural resource development in Colorado’s economy.

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