Rulison blast site decision leave some ‘cautiously optimistic’ | PostIndependent.com
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Rulison blast site decision leave some ‘cautiously optimistic’

One of the winners of a lawsuit over gas-drilling plans near the so-called Rulison blast site said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the ruling would give nearby landowners a say in whether the drilling occurs or not.But, noted Frank Smith of the Western Colorado Congress, the case could still have more legal hurdles to overcome before anything final is known.The Colorado Court of Appeals this week overturned a lower court’s ruling and declared that adjacent landowners do have “standing” to demand a hearing on the subject before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which handles oil and gas drilling permits for the state.The COGCC had denied efforts by the Weldon and Kent families, who own land near the Rulison test site, to make their feelings known when EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) applied for permits to drill near the site in 2008.The Kents and Weldons do not own mineral rights to the oil and gas beneath their properties, according to those familiar with the case. Owners of surface rights only do not have “standing” to be heard regarding drilling applications, according to the COGCC, whereas adjacent mineral rights owners would automatically have “standing” to be heard regarding the application.The test site is where the U.S. government detonated an atomic bomb some 8,400 feet below ground in 1969, in an effort to see whether nuclear explosives would be useful in loosening up deeply buried gas reserves.The blast failed to produce usable oil or gas, because the petroleum and the ground encasing the blast chamber were contaminated by radioactivity, and there Blast site A3has been concern ever since that any gas or oil brought to the surface would pose a hazard to human health.”I think, in the broader sense, what this [ruling] demonstrates is, that what happens on your property might affect those who live near you,” Smith said, adding that it flies in the face of the established Western ethos that holds, “it’s my land and I can do what I want on it.”In addition to possibly giving the Weldons and Kents standing to demand a hearing, Smith said, it give greater hope to the 5,500 residents of the nearby community of Battlement Mesa, who also hope to preclude drilling at the test site.Mary Ellen Denomy, accountant for some other landowners in the neighborhood who do own their mineral rights, said she has been part of a group working to secure “standing” for all adjacent landowners and to ensure that there is no drilling in the blast site area.”I applaud the Court of Appeals for giving those folks … a voice before the commission,” she said on Friday.”Of course, it just gives them a voice,” she added, noting that the court did not hand down any ruling regarding which direction the COGCC should go in considering EnCana’s application.She and Smith noted that the COGCC could appeal the court’s decision, perhaps to the State Supreme Court.An attempt to reach COGCC executive director Dave Neslin to comment on the decision and on any possible appeal was unsuccessful on Friday.Aside from the ruling and its aftermath, Denomy said, landowners around the test site are working with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, to craft legislation enabling a swap of mineral rights for EnCana’s rights near the site.If successful, she said, that would mean EnCana would go elsewhere to drill for gas, leaving the Rulison test site alone.She said the legislation probably will not be introduced until the fall session of Congress.jcolson@postindependent.com


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