The Colorado Supreme Court is preparing to hear the Martinez v. COGCC case, which is about whether the health of humans living near oil and gas operations takes priority over the ability to frack, drill, and operate as usual in the oil and gas patch. As amazing as it may sound to someone unfamiliar with life under Colorado’s antiquated oil and gas rules, the state has been issuing permits as if the ability to live safely and healthily must be “balanced with” the ability to develop oil and gas, to frack, to operate as usual even in the middle of a neighborhood or next to a school.
At the appellate court, the Martinez case has found that state law, in fact, requires human health take priority when permitting oil and gas development in Colorado. Whatever the Colorado Supreme Court decides is likely to be consequential. If the appellate court is reversed, to many it would signal putting a company’s profit on equal ground with human health. Which is one reason I am proud to serve on the LOGIC board of directors: Making sure that priorities are put back in proper order. LOGIC seeks first and foremost to empower local communities, so that they may better stand up for their interests as this difference is settled. After all it’s not easy going up against one of the world’s richest and most powerful industries. We need to stand together and share resources, and to share strategies for success.
Oil and gas has impacted me since before “fracking” was a dirty word. I first engaged on the issue during the last boom in the Piceance. At the time operators in the basin were pioneering the use of horizontal drilling paired with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to unlock the tight sandstones of the basin.
In 1997, the Department of Energy transferred administration of the Naval Oil Shale Reserves near Rifle, Colorado to the Bureau of Land Management. I arrived later that year in Grand Junction for my new job with the Colorado Environmental Coalition. In 1998, the BLM set out to complete the (renamed) Roan Plateau’s first-ever land use plan, and conservation groups set out to identify lands and resources to recommend for protection. In 1999, I helped form the Save Roan Plateau Campaign, the primary coalition of groups and activists that would advocate on the Roan’s behalf.
A year of work to develop a conservation-oriented plan for the public lands of the plateau was derailed in November 2000, with the election and Supreme Court decision that brought George W. Bush to the presidency. The Roan Plateau was put on a fast-track to be leased for oil and gas development. A pitched, decade-long land use battle was about to be waged. But this isn’t an article on the Roan Plateau, which conservation groups managed to mostly protect.
Now the Roan is back in the news. Plans are afoot for drilling along the base, where that activity was not blocked. So, almost twenty years after the campaign began, I was recently flying over the Roan Plateau again on an EcoFlight with KDNK community radio. We were looking at where the new development was coming, discussing the plight of Battlement Mesa which sits across the Colorado River valley, and considering impacts from energy development across the Piceance Basin that contains it all. Which is the second reason I am on the LOGIC board: this fight is a long-term effort. Winning requires a smart and steady strategy: One group, approach, or effort will not finish the job. LOGIC serves to share ideas, expertise, and strategy so communities can learn from and support each-other
In 2008 the federal government approved the Bull Mountain Pipeline that heads in the upper North Fork Valley, where I live, on the southern edge of the Piceance Basin. The pipeline, which is now in place, cuts through roadless National Forests and has opened the public lands in the region to the potential for new, large-scale industrial development.
The Great Recession hit pause for the Piceance, and in 2009 the basin busted again—as all booms do. Activity suddenly shifted to shale plays in the east. Once the impacts and industrialization of fracking and oil and gas collided with more populated areas—with towns and suburbs: schools, parks, and playgrounds—conflict was inevitable. In 2010, the movie Gasland brought the issue into American living rooms, and with it the term “fracking” into popular culture. Suddenly there were human faces on the impacts that living near an oil and gas field bring.
For me, after working on this issue around the state for over a decade, the issue was also about to hit home in the North Fork. Various battles over leasing, and a small level of activity culminated in an epic clash in 2011 – 13 over some oil and gas leases in in the valley. Although those leases were beat back for the time-being, the North Fork has been on guard since. My activism apparently attracted the ire of one of the main oil and gas drillers in the valley, one of the owners of the Bull Mountain Pipeline and development “unit.” The company has hit me with a SLAPP action, tying me up in court defending myself against a frivolous lawsuit. I am on the LOGIC board for those reasons too, for the personal stake I have in the matter, to join with other impacted Coloradans and to demand a voice myself on how, when, and where oil and gas development occurs. LOGIC acts as a hub, for information, for collaboration, for solidarity.
I have been engaged on oil and gas issues for twenty years. Whatever I have learned should not only benefit me, or just the North Fork or the Roan Plateau. At best this serves a narrow purpose. But we need a broad-based campaign. Facing a powerful and supremely wealthy industry, then no one person, no one town, no one community group, can stand in its way. I stand with LOGIC because I understand we need to stand together. We may not always agree, but we all face the same industrial behemoth. We need to face it head-on, not sniping on the sides at each other.
Stories of courage and mistakes, of lessons from campaigns that succeed and fail, and of tactics worth replicating and to avoid, mean something. Strength leveraged from collective wisdom and shared work is a powerful tool. The Martinez decision will be upheld or overturned. But regardless of the Court’s ruling, local communities will need—more than ever—to stay involved. Coloradans must have meaningful input into how, when, and where fracking, drilling and oil and gas development occur. We will have to push hard to get it.
Oil and gas development happens across jurisdictions, across county and town lines. State, local, and federal governments are all responsible for decisions that can direct somewhat how it occurs. Impacted Coloradans also need to engage at all these levels. We should work in league, and act to change the policy and politics around oil and gas development in Colorado – across jurisdictions, at the local, state, and federal levels. Action rooted in community, persistence informed by lessons learned, and a smart, steady strategy that brings impacted communities together: LOGIC unites Coloradans to stand up for ourselves and to stand for each other. And for this reason, especially, I’m honored to be part of it.