Colorado Front Range cities and counties, 13 state lawmakers and 1,539 residents on Tuesday blitzed Gov. John Hickenlooper with letters urging him to accept an appeals court ruling requiring state protection of public safety, health and the environment as a precondition before allowing oil and gas drilling.

Coloradans also have sent about 400 emails and made about 100 phone calls — overwhelmingly opposing a legal fight against the ruling, Hickenlooper’s office reported.

The letters refer to “the terrible tragedy in Firestone that claimed two lives” and Hickenlooper’s subsequent assurances that public safety would be paramount. They ask him to order the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission not to appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.

A “balancing” of industry and public interests in the past “at times resulted in compromises to public health, safety and welfare because of the need to foster and allow oil and gas production,” Adams County commission chairwoman Eva Henry wrote in one letter.

Oil and gas development should be done “only when such development is completed subject to protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources,” Henry said, citing the Colorado Court of Appeals’ Martinez case ruling.

“Adams County agrees with the conclusion that the COGCC’s mission should be that development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated and allowed only when it is subject to protection of public health, safety and welfare,” Henry wrote on behalf of her county’s five commissioners. “We encourage you not to appeal this case and request Adams County’s participation when COGCC re-examines its rules and regulations in light of the clarified and clearer vision as to its mission, as determined by the recent court ruling.”

Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens said local leaders have a duty to protect their people’s safety and environment,  encouraging Hickenlooper to  “exercise your power to direct the COGCC not to seek additional appeal.”

This political pressure, fallout from the Firestone disaster, builds on a call by environment groups Monday urging Hickenlooper not to fight the ruling.

Oil and gas industry groups also have weighed in saying Hickenlooper would be “well-backed” in a legal challenge.

A request asking the Supreme Court to consider a review would have to be filed by Thursday to meet a court deadline, which was extended in response to COGCC and American Petroleum Institute motions.

On March 23, Colorado appeals court judges ruled that protecting public health and the environment is “a condition that must be fulfilled” by the state before oil and gas drilling can be done. The COGCC must go beyond balancing industry interests with protection of people and the environment, the judges said, and make sure people and the environment aren’t hurt.

State oil and gas commissioners on May 1 voted unanimously to seek high court review of that ruling. Their rationale was to gain “clarity,” and commissioner Bob Randall, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said appealing the ruling should not suggest indifference to public safety.

Those statements “are certain to feed cynicism and mistrust of your administration and the fossil fuel industry at a time when a concerted, unified effort to increase safeguards is of unquestionable importance,” a letter signed by 39 city council members and other elected officials said. “Please show the victims of the Firestone tragedy and the people of this state that you care about their safety and well-being.”

The League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, in a letter signed by 1,539 residents from around the state, said the fatal house blast — caused by a severed, uncapped industry pipeline — has fueled “anxiety” around “the increasing persistence of the oil and gas industry” in developing industrial facilities near neighborhoods.

Fighting the appeals court ruling “would do the public a great disservice in these times when they are looking to the state for reassurances, and it will no doubt breed further cynicism that the oil and gas industry’s profits matter more than the public’s health and safety,” the league’s letter said.

A decision not to appeal the ruling “will not solve all the ills associated with residential oil and gas development,” the letter said, “but it would be an important step forward and a demonstration to concerned Coloradans that their lives and safety are the most important factor when deciding how, where, and when oil and gas development takes place in our communities.”

-Bruce Finley, Denver Post

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