Monday, November 29, 2021

Groups Say State Oil & Gas Regulators Violated Public Meetings Law During West Slope Tours

Conservation group members say the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has illegally barred the public and the media from visiting oil and gas fields, and one group says it will seek injunctive relief if this happens again.

The Commission, which regulates oil and gas production, held public meetings on the West Slope Tuesday through Thursday and hosted what was on the agenda were field exploration tours of wells in Gunnison, Garfield and Jackson Counties.

Members of the community and conservation groups objected when there were no seats on the agenda initially, and then the commission did not allow the public or the media to join.

Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she views the tours as part of public meetings because the commission had a quorum that announced the tours as part of its public notice. Thus, according to Robinson, the travel ban for members of the public is a violation of the state’s open assembly law.

“The public was not invited to the public meeting,” Robinson said.

The Alliance of Citizens of the Grand Valley asked Steve Sansberg, a First Amendment lawyer, to respond to Assistant Attorney General Lauren Mercer, who said the tours were not subject to the Public Meetings Act.

Sansberg, who often represents The Denver Post and is president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the commission called a meeting and publicly announced it.

“They said it was a public meeting for the purpose of notification, but not for the purpose of public presence. There is no such animal, ”Sansberg said.

In a letter sent Friday to Mercer, Sansberg said the tours were to be open to the public and that the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance “stands ready to seek an injunction prohibiting further violations” of the open assembly law.

The Grand Valley Citizens ‘Alliance, Citizens for a Healthy Community, the League of Colorado Oil and Gas Affected People, and the Valley Organic Producers’ Association asked COGCC in October to advise on the location of the sites participants plan to visit. The groups said the commissioners’ agenda shows they plan to spend more time in private with industry than with the public in Gunnison, Garfield and Jackson counties.

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“It also became painfully obvious when the Commission turned down several requests to include a local impact tour with a population on the North Fork Valley schedule,” the group said in a letter.

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