Court Rebukes City’s Effort to Block Oil and Gas Production During Coronavirus Outbreak
City officials from Broomfield, Colo. failed in their attempt to stop the production plans of Extraction Oil & Gas this week as a state district judge blocked the city’s order and criticized officials for placing politics over public health.
Broomfield, a Denver suburb, attempted to temporarily stop the company from moving ahead with flowback operations citing increased health concerns due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Denver Post reported.
But Colorado State District Court Judge Robert W. Kiesnowski issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the city’s directive. In his ruling, Kiesnowski said Broomfield can’t use a public health emergency to target businesses that it doesn’t favor.
“It is also contrary to the public interest to single out a legal but politically unpopular business and shut it down; and for a government to disregard fundamental property and contract law principles of vested rights,” Kiesnowski wrote in his ruling.
He then sharply rebuked Broomfield’s motivation for attempting to block the production.
“The evidence also suggests that Broomfield is using its police powers in bad faith, to shut down Extraction’s operations not because they pose any health risk, but because they are unpopular,” he continued.
In requesting the restraining order, Extraction claimed “Broomfield generally opposes oil and gas development and seeks to prohibit it to the extent possible.”
Gov. Jared Polis declared the oil and natural gas sector an “essential” industry as the state deals with the coronavirus outbreak, and Kiesnowski cited that when ruling that the Broomfield appeared to take advantage of the situation.
The judge said while the city is entitled to “adopt reasonable measures” to protect public health, its “instant proposed shutdown is contrary to the public interest during this COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor designated oil and gas operations as essential and encouraged them to stay open.”
Kiesnowski also called Broomfield’s plan to shut down operations “factually and legally baseless” and that it is contrary to Polis’ order that “requires local government to request and obtain authority from the [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] before enacting their own COVID-19 health-based directives.”
The Colorado Oil & Gas Association praised the ruling, with President and CEO Dan Haley saying the focus should be on data, not politics, during the coronavirus crisis.
“This is a time in our country when we should be rallying, not fighting old ghosts. Political agendas that are haphazardly spending taxpayer dollars to try and force an outcome, rather than looking at the facts, should upset those citizens that are footing the bill,” Haley told Western Wire.
Broomfield has a long history of opposing oil and natural gas development and last year a slate of new city councilmembers were elected vowing to take on the industry. That included a member of the activist group Colorado Rising who supports effectively banning oil and gas operations statewide – which self-described “anti-fracking” Mayor Pat Quinn said he supports.