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Citizens Groups Denounce Oil and Gas Industry Harassment of Front Range Residents
In a motion filed in state court this week, Extraction Oil and Gas is demanding the Plaintiffs, conservation group WildEarth Guardians and Broomfield citizens’ group Residents Rights pay the company more than $15,000 in attorneys’ fees that were allegedly incurred when Extraction Oil and Gas moved to intervene in a case.
“This just underscores that Colorado’s oil and gas industry is at war with Coloradans and Colorado communities,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “In classic oil and gas industry form, rather than take responsibility for its actions and respect communities, Extraction Oil and Gas is using the threat of attorneys’ fees to stifle activists and silence opposition.”
Last fall, WildEarth Guardians and Residents Rights sued the City and County of Broomfield over the way its City Manager administratively approved Extraction’s massive fracking plans in the community. Then City Manager, Charles Ozaki, approved Extraction’s development despite a citizen initiative that expressly prohibited approval unless the condition of protecting health and safety had been met and despite lacking authorization to do so under the terms of the Operator Agreement.
The suit was filed on behalf of members of WildEarth Guardians and Residents Rights who have been impacted by the alleged violation of their Charter and improper approval of Extraction’s Comprehensive Drilling Plan for at least 84 wells in close proximity to Broomfield neighborhoods.
“Broomfield officials turned their backs on protecting the health and safety of Broomfield residents to appease the oil and gas industry,” said Becky Early, Board Member of Residents Rights. “The result of this action is that our community is now being torn apart by drilling pads, pipelines, fracking operations, while complaints of adverse impacts have been filed with both the City and State.”
A Broomfield judge dismissed the case earlier in the month, holding residents couldn’t enforce their charter, specifically a provision passed by Broomfield citizen initiative to specifically protect Broomfield residents from adverse impacts of Oil and Gas development that so many Colorado communities have been forced to accept. The case never went to trial and the issues were never briefed. WildEarth Guardians and Residents Rights are now weighing an appeal.
“Here in the United States, we have the right to free speech and that means the right to question our government and to use our courts to resolve those questions,” said Kim McNaughton with Residents Rights. “Extraction’s motion seeking $15,000 is nothing short of an assault on these rights. It’s a vindictive attempt to use the threat of paying attorneys to silence citizens who speak out.”
In its motion, Extraction Oil and Gas claims that it had to pay its lawyers for nearly forty hours of work to draft a single motion to intervene, where they allege the legal issues were supposedly so indisputable that the Plaintiffs should be sanctioned for opposing them.
“There’s nothing frivolous about Americans exercising their rights,” said Nichols. “This is nothing short of an attempt to intimidate and bully residents who dare to oppose the oil and gas industry.”
“Broomfield Residents have sincere concerns about the impacts oil and gas development is having on residents living near large scale industrial fracking. These concerns prompted our community to amend our local Charter,” said Tom Yeager, Board Member of Residents Rights. “We took this issue to the courts because we did not believe that our Charter amendment was being upheld during the permit approval process. The courts are meant to resolve these kinds of disputes.”
Oil and gas companies in Colorado have frequently engaged in retaliatory litigation against citizen activists as an attempt to stifle advocacy. Last fall, a judge rejected a lawsuit filed by a western Colorado oil and gas company that targeted an activist in the town of Paonia. The judge dismissed the case because it was meant to “silence a critic.” Although Colorado recently passed a bill to prevent this type of legal harassment, “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation,” it has not yet been signed by the Governor and will not become effective until July 1, 2019.
WildEarth Guardians and Residents rights will be opposing Extraction’s $15,000 demand and requesting the court dismiss it.