Near the Rocky Mountain foothills, oil fields and rigs border the town of Lafayette, Colorado. The air pollution from this oil and gas development has led to high rates of asthma and respiratory diseases in the region.
This is where Earthjustice attorney Joel Minor grew up.
As a young boy, Minor heard stories from his father, an occasional oil field worker, about his coworkers incurring serious injuries on the job. After being knocked unconscious during a gruesome accident that severely injured one of his coworkers, his father finally quit.
While in high school, Minor witnessed his grandmother and aunt fight a uranium mill’s plans to store radioactive waste in Cañon City. And as he grew older, he saw the fracking boom near Lafayette begin to take a toll on the health of his community, especially his mother and grandfather, who suffered from respiratory problems.
Determined to avoid working for the oil industry — as was the destiny of many his peers — Minor began studying environmental science and law.
“I wanted to make a difference for Colorado communities impacted by energy development,” he says.
After graduating from Colorado College, Minor headed west to study at Stanford, where he received a master’s degree in Environment and Resources and a law degree from Stanford.
Since starting at Earthjustice in October 2015, Minor has taken on a number of legal cases to stop the polluting oil and gas industry. He has already helped score two victories.
His first victory came when he and Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley successfully fought an industry attempt to overturn the new BLM methane rule. These federal regulations prevent the waste of publicly-owned natural gas and reduce methane pollution from new and existing oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands.
Minor drove an SUV full of eight lawyers through a blizzard to the hearing in Casper, Wyoming. The team successfully argued the case and won. The judge denied the preliminary injunction, and the rule went into effect. Minor and Cooley are now working with a coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups to defend the rule from an illegal delay by the Trump administration.
Minor’s second victory came in July when he and Earthjustice staff attorney Tim Ballo convinced a federal appeals court to block Trump’s EPA from delaying new rules on methane that would reduce pollution from new and modified oil and gas operations. The EPA and BLM methane rules both require oil and gas companies to capture their methane emissions. Together these crucial protections reduce smog, air toxics, and climate pollution — protecting public health and future generations.
Minor is now working with Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman to prevent the BLM from rescinding its new fracking regulations on federal and tribal lands. The rule sets common-sense standards to protect groundwater, surface water, wildlife and emergency responders from health and safety risks posed by fracking. The rule also requires operators to submit information to BLM before they frack so the BLM can ensure that two fractures will not intersect underground — a phenomenon known as a “frack hit” which can cause wells to blow out and create accidents.
Most importantly to Minor, the rule requires fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use, which helps protect workers and emergency responders so they can quickly and easily identify chemicals in the case of an accident. After hearing about workplace injuries in the oil fields from his father, Minor’s hope is that these regulations will help prevent unnecessary injuries in the future.
Says Minor: “After several months of watching the courts strike down the Trump administration’s illegal attempts to roll back crucial health and safety standards, I feel confident that the resistance is more than up to the challenge that this administration presents.”
By Gail Koffman