Citizens Call on Hickenlooper to Allow Coloradans Voices to be Heard

DENVER – Days before the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is set to begin a three-day hearing on water quality protection and new rules about oil and gas drilling near homes, two of the oil industry lobby organizations, Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA), have filed a motion to block people who live close to existing oil and gas wells from testifying at the hearing. The COGA/CPA motion, filed on Thursday afternoon, complains that the submitted written testimony from impacted residents is “harassing and abusive” to the industry.

“It is height of irony that the oil and gas industry is calling citizens who have had their lives turned upside down by drilling as somehow “harassing and abusive” merely because they want to tell the Commission what has happened to them,” Matt Sura, attorney for three Western Slope community organizations stated. “We call on Governor Hickenlooper and the COGCC to deny these shocking motions and allow these Colorado citizens to tell their stories.”

Twelve people from Garfield and Mesa counties have submitted written testimony. Their health complaints include becoming nauseous from the fumes from nearby oil and gas operations, burning eyes, coughing, and the disruption of living in constant dust and noise from oil and gas drilling. Many also have concerns that their property values have plummeted now that they are surrounded on all sides by oil and gas wells and production facilities.

Tom Thompson, a resident of Rifle stated, “It’s too late to save most of western Garfield County. But if the commission acts responsibly and promptly we may save families and communities on the front range.”

There are also a number of witnesses that are living near oil and gas operations on the front range that have similar complaints of the noise, dust and odors of living within oil and gas industrial operations. COGA and CPA have requested that the testimony from a total of 15 witnesses be barred from testifying.

These witnesses are from a broad coalition of Colorado Conservation organizations including Western Colorado Congress and Conservation Colorado.

Dee Hoffmeister of Rifle submitted written testimony about she and her husband returning from a 50th high school class reunion to find a drilling rig had been erected on the property next door – about 700 feet from their home. “When we got out of our car, we were overwhelmed by a visible cloud of something that smelled horrible and had blown over our home from the well. Shortly after I got into our house, I passed out because of the fumes,” Hoffmeister wrote.

Some gas field residents, frustrated by the lack of action from the state COGCC or the state Health Department, have had to take extraordinary measures to protect their homes and communities. Dave Devanney of Battlement Mesa, started the “Bucket Brigade” that uses adapted five gallon buckets to collect air samples that are then sent to labs for analysis.

“We have been asking for the state to monitor our air quality for nearly ten years. We created the “Bucket Brigade” because we feel the state regulations and inspections are not adequately protecting public health,” Devanney stated.

Another witness, Marion Wells, felt she had to purchase her own noise meter. From her living room, she has documented and recorded industrial noise levels during nearby drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

As part of the rulemaking, the COGCC is considering air quality and noise mitigation requirements when drilling occurs near homes. However, in rural areas (larger than 3.27-acre lot sizes), the 500-foot setback would be waived simply by an oil and gas company demonstrating that they have mitigated their impacts “to the greatest extent economically practicable.”

Mike Chiropolos, Western Resource Advocates, believes the current draft of the rule means industry is dictating the outcome of the central issue in the rulemaking. Chiropolos stated, “Colorado families are getting sick, and they are tired of waiting for the state to act. The homeowner testimony that industry seeks to exclude shows why greater setbacks are needed. Does anybody besides the Colorado Petroleum Association think the State should ignore citizens and base its decision solely on industry’s wishes to continue drilling a stones’ throw from houses?”

Karen Trulove sold her home at a loss in order to move away from the oil and gas operations surrounding her home in Silt, Colorado. Karen is also hoping the COGCC will prevent other citizens in Colorado from having to endure what she and her husband went through. Trulove wrote in her testimony, “The point is, there shouldn’t be any drilling close to any dwellings. It is industrial activity and should be confined to industrial zones. It is inexcusable to put some people’s health
at risk when there is technology available to drill safely.”

Matt Sura, Western Colorado Congress, 720-563-1866
Chris Arend, Conservation Colorado, 303-605-3483 or (cell) 303-908-7910

1) Dave Devanney – 970-285-2263
2) Dee Hoffmeister – 970-309-0734
3) Tresi Houpt (former Garfield County Commissioner, former COGCC commissioner) 970-319-3621
4) Thomas Thompson – 970-625-8177
5) Richard and Kaethe Williams – 970-876-0350 (house).