Lawsuit filed to force hearing |

Lawsuit filed to force hearing

Phillip Yatespyates@postindependent.comGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RULISON, Colorado Landowners near the Project Rulison nuclear blast site have filed a lawsuit against state oil and gas regulators to establish the rights of interested persons to receive a hearing over the approval of drilling permit applications.Residents who live near the blast site, where the government detonated a 43-kiloton nuclear weapon 8426 feet below the ground in 1969, have been seeking a hearing over applications for permits to drill (APDs) within three miles of the blast site since the beginning of this year.However, their requests to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Garfield County commissioners has been denied.Residents who live near the blast site argue that the use of fracturing technologies, which are designed to stimulate greater production of natural gas from subsurface formations, increases the risk that radioactive contaminants from the Rulison blast site may reach the surface.The quantity, nature and extent of the contamination produced by the Rulison explosion have never been determined, the court action said.The U.S. Department of Energy currently prohibits drilling deeper than 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area around the site. The COGCC requires a hearing for any gas wells proposed to be drilled within a half-mile of the site. That is also the position of Garfield County, which can request a hearing over the approval of APDs.The lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court on Thursday, names the COGCC, its acting director, Dave Neslin, and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) as defendants. The Western Colorado Congress, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Rulison residents Ruth and Cary Weldon, along with Marcia and Wesley Kent, are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, court records show.In court papers, the organizations and Rulison residents say Neslin and the COGCC have repeatedly denied their petitions for hearings over the approval of drilling permit applications near the Rulison blast site in violation of state law. They say the state Oil and Gas Conservation Act provides an avenue for residents to apply for a hearing before the commission, according to the lawsuit. They also allege the act allows any interested person to petition the COGCC on any matter and requires the COGCC to hold a hearing on the issue.Theo Stein, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, declined to comment on the lawsuit because the agency did not have enough time to review the lawsuit Friday. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources oversees the COGCC.

The lawsuit was filed about a month after Neslin, in mid-November, approved five EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) drilling permits within three miles of the blast site.The residents and groups had filed protest and objection to the approval of the drilling permit applications in late September. In response, Neslin sent the groups and residents a letter that referred to an earlier agency letter that stated a COGCC rule only allows local governments to request a hearing over the approval of drilling permit applications, according to court records.The groups and couples, according to their lawsuit, want a court declaration saying that the rule is contrary to state law and an order prohibiting the COGCC from enforcing it. They are also seeking an order compelling the COGCC to hold a hearing over the disputed EnCana permits.Central to the residents and groups lawsuit is their request for a declaration that state law requires oil and gas regulators to hold a hearing for interested persons who have filed a petition over drilling permit applications.The lawsuit comes at a time when the COGCC recently approved new rules that require oil and gas companies to notify nearby residents of APDs. Those rules allow surface owners, not adjacent landowners, to request a hearing over drilling applications.The issue over who could request a hearing over APDs was often a point of controversy when the COGCC worked to draft new rules for the states oil and gas industry.Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), said the company would not comment on the lawsuit. However, he added the company doesnt believe there is a problem with drilling in the Project Rulison area.Otherwise, we wouldnt have requested those APDs, Hock said. We believe the drilling can be conducted safely and responsibly.Contact Phillip Yates:

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