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John Watson

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jwatson@spencerfane.com

Colorado Mining Operations Face Temporary Cessation Roadblock

Case of First Impression Overturns Mined Land Reclamation Board Ruling

On July 25, 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a ruling of the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (“MLRB” or “agency”) which had authorized a second period of temporary cessation for a uranium mine.  The Court in Information Network for Responsible Mining, Earthworks, and Sheep Mountain Alliance v. Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board was asked to determine if the agency properly authorized a “second period of temporary cessation” which would allow the mining permit issued by the MLRB to remain in effect.

Takings Claims in Federal Court

Affected by a local government just compensation action? Your remedies have now changed significantly. The Supreme Court on June 21, 2019 overturned 35 years of precedent. In Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania the Court held that you can now take your federal takings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 directly to federal court without exhausting state court remedies.

Colorado lawsuit claims “forced pooling” in oil and gas development is unconstitutional. Is this the next step to try to ban the industry?

On January 23, 2019, Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee (reportedly an anti-fracking group but also an organization that includes mineral owners in the Wildgrass subdivision in Broomfield, Colorado), filed suit in federal court in Denver challenging, on federal constitutional grounds, that portion of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act (C.R.S. 34-60-116) (the “Act”) that allows the Commission to “force pool” the development of oil and gas resources.

Monitoring the Deregulatory Track Record of the Trump Administration

There are several online resources available to track the regulatory activities of the current federal administration, including various federal government agency websites.  The two sites which I and others often turn to for comprehensive and easy-to-use online access for tracking the current state of federal deregulatory efforts are the sites produced and maintained by the law schools at Harvard College and New York University.

Colorado Oil and Gas Development – State Supreme Court Upholds COGCC Decision in Martinez Case

In a unanimous decision which resolved more than five years of dispute, the Colorado Supreme Court on January 14, 2019 upheld the decision of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) which had refused to engage in rulemaking proposed by environmental groups. Led by the so-called teenage activist Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced Shoe-Tez-Caht) Martinez, the activists proposed a rule that would have conditioned all new oil and gas development on a finding of no cumulative adverse impacts to public health and the environment.  Responding to the rulemaking petition which was originally submitted in 2013, the COGCC said the rulemaking was beyond its statutory authority; on appeal, the district court agreed with the agency; and then the Court of Appeals, in a split decision, reversed. 

Air Quality – Colorado to Join 13 States That Have Adopted California’s LEV Requirements

On August 16, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission set a hearing to consider establishing a new Regulation Number 20 to adopt specific provisions of the California low emission vehicle (LEV) rule for model year 2022 and newer light and medium duty vehicles. The Division’s proposed rule will not include a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate and has no impact on heavy-duty vehicles or non-road (construction and agricultural) equipment.

Oil and Gas Development Would Be Blocked on 85% of Non-Federal Land in Colorado

A recent analysis by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) shows that increasing the current regulatory setback of 500 feet to the 2500-foot setback proposed in Initiative # 97 would prevent oil and gas development on 85% of the non-federal land surface in the state. 

Colorado Orders Safety Fixes at Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado issued an Executive Order directing the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) to act to “plug, remediate, and reclaim” orphaned oil and gas wells and sites.  Of the over 50,000 oil and gas wells in the state, the COGCC is currently tracking 262 orphaned wells and 373 associated well sites that require remediation and reclamation. 

U.S. Will Produce More Crude Oil Than Any Other Country in 2019, According to EIA

The U.S. is projected to produce more crude oil than any other nation, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.  The July 10, 2018 forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that, in 2019, U.S. crude oil production will grow to 11.8 million barrels a day.

Federal Court Halts EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule in 11 States

On June 11, 2018, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Georgia issued a preliminary injunction preventing implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in 11 states including Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  The court held that if the WOTUS rule became effective the states would suffer irreparable harm in both a “loss of sovereignty and unrecoverable monetary losses.” 

Insurance Benefits – Unreasonable Delay and Denial. Supreme Court of Colorado Decides Three Cases Against Insurance Companies.

In a trio of case opinions issued on May 29, 2018, – all written by Chief Justice Nancy Rice who will retire in June – the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the arguments of insurance companies. 

Air Emissions From Oil and Gas Wells Health Risks Analyzed – More Study Needed

About the only thing that stakeholders agree on is that the risk assessment saga in Colorado means one thing – more study is needed. On March 27, 2018, the latest in a series of health risk studies was published by the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Medical Campus. Using air emissions data taken from within the 500 foot regulatory setback requirement for homes near wells, the study concludes that people living in close proximity to oil and gas wells are subject to an increased risk of developing cancer.

The Superfund Petroleum Exclusion – Alive and Well in the Ninth Circuit

In an unpublished opinion on March 21, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit citing the application of CERCLA’s petroleum exclusion. The Court held that the site investigation at a former gas station did NOT identify anything other than petroleum or fractions thereof. Consequently, the Plaintiff did not plausibly allege any CERCLA “hazardous substances” were present at the site. The case was dismissed.

EPA Will Revise Emission Standards For Cars and Light Trucks for Model Years 2022-2025

On April 2, 2018, the EPA announced the results of its updated Midterm Evaluation (MTE) determination related to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025. The agency stated that the current standards are not appropriate, and that it will work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set a notice and comment rulemaking to set new standards.

Hazardous Waste Generators, Transporters, and TSDFs Should Plan Now for EPA’s 2018 e-Manifest System

Authorized by Congress in 2012, the EPA’s Electronic Manifest System (e-Manifest) will become effective on June 30, 2018.  When they register, generators, transporters, and receivers of hazardous wastes will be able to use this system to facilitate the electronic transmission of the uniform hazardous waste manifest form.  States must adopt the provisions of the final rule in order to enforce them under state law and to maintain manifest program consistency.

Colorado Court of Appeals Upholds Warrantless Inspections at Oil and Gas Sites

On March 22, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s authority to undertake unannounced, warrantless inspections (i.e., administrative searches) at oil and gas sites does NOT violate the U.S. or Colorado constitutions.

Colorado Legislation Could Halt Oil and Gas Production

House Bill 1071, if enacted as written, will obviate the need for the Colorado Supreme Court to resolve the dilemma caused by the Colorado Court of Appeals opinion in the Martinez case.   As described in earlier Spencer Fane posts, that appellate decision effectively elevated the protection of public health and the environment over the interests of mineral rights owners and developers.  The issue before the Colorado Supreme Court is whether the current statute dictates that the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) implement a statutorily directed balancing act without giving priority to any particular interest.

Tougher Oil & Gas Rules in Colorado Set to Take Effect

On February 13, 2018, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved new rules to require the industry to track the location of oil and gas pipelines. The new rules stem from an explosion in Firestone, Colorado caused by a leaking pipeline that destroyed a house and killed two people on April 17, 2017. That disaster triggered a massive public outcry, directives from the Governor, and now significant revisions to state regulations. 

Colorado Supreme Court Will Address Oil and Gas Development in its Review of the Martinez Case

On January 29, 2018 the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of the Martinez case.  The state’s high court will decide whether, in the agency’s review of oil and gas permit applications, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) must elevate “public health and the environment” over other factors identified in the agency’s organic statute.

Denver Post Supports AG’s Appeal of Martinez Case to Colorado Supreme Court

As stated here in an earlier post, the Martinez decision, if upheld by the Supreme Court, has major implications for all fossil fuel as well as hardrock mineral development in the state of Colorado.

The Future of Oil and Gas Development in Colorado – Appeal by Attorney General of the Martinez Case Raises the Stakes

On May 18, 2017, the Colorado Attorney General filed an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court seeking to overturn the recent 2-1 decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals which arguably conflicts with the long-standing interpretations embraced by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“OGCC”) related to its organic statute.