Written by Audrey Wheeler

The first-ever Colorado Public Lands Day was celebrated this weekend with 137 events across the state. This new holiday is the first of its kind for any state in the nation, and was created by our Colorado legislature in 2016 to occur on the third Saturday of May each year.

This year, events ranged from volunteering to bicycling to hiking to drinking beer. Volunteers came together to restore trails, plant native species, and clean up our wild places. Ten breweries jumped on board with limited-edition craft brews to honor public lands.

Some big names were involved in the festivities. Colorado-based band Elephant Revival hosted a trail cleanup event, played an acoustic set at a Colorado Public Lands Day event, and gave a shoutout to our public lands from the stage at the Red Rocks music venue on Sunday.

The band, which has made a bold commitment to protecting public lands, was the “official sound” of the holiday this year. U.S.  and Conservation Colorado Executive Director  got onstage at their Red Rocks show to urge the audience to protect public lands. Senator Bennet urged the audience to celebrate and protect our public lands because “our work is not done.” Hundreds of people took action with Conservation Colorado to support our national monuments.

In addition, many other Colorado politicians came out to celebrate the holiday. Governor Hickenlooper spoke about public lands protection to a packed street at the Grand Junction Epic Rides Fest. U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents the Golden area, commented that “In Colorado, public lands are part of our DNA,” when he spoke on stage at one of our marquee events the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.

The holiday was established in large part due to the efforts of state Senator . Donovan said of the holiday, “Since we passed it, there have been some very real challenges and political discussion around the threat against public lands staying public. I think it has a new significance, showing how important it is that our public lands stay public and accessible to all.”

It’s true that this holiday could not have come at a better time. Right now, the attacks on our public lands are all too real, from a “review” of 27 treasured National Monuments to halting the work of over 200 advisory boards for the Department of the Interior. Fortunately, the inaugural Colorado Public Lands Day proved that Coloradans are ready to stand up for their public lands.

In all, the holiday was an enormous success for celebrating and honoring our public lands. The widespread participation in Colorado Public Lands Day is proof of Coloradans’ affinity for protecting our public lands. We can’t wait to celebrate next year!

Cover image: Celebration for Colorado Public Lands Day at a brewery. Anna Peterson.

Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235

As the 2017 Colorado state legislative session comes to a close, Conservation Colorado celebrated seven victories but also lamented several important bills that were killed or left on the cutting room floor by the state Senate.

Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado, put it this way:
This year’s legislative session had several great, bipartisan wins for conservation issues. Conservation champions and legislators on both sides of the aisle stood up for our air, land, water, and communities, and we’re proud of the passage of meaningful and innovative bills to protect our environment.

 

But throughout the session, a group of obstructionist right-wing Republican senators repeatedly blocked progress by voting ideologically rather than for the needs of everyday Coloradans. Their opposition to simple, commonsense fixes to problems facing Colorado — such as giving citizens the opportunity to vote on a long-term sustainable funding to solve our transportation problems — should serve as a reminder about why voting matters.

Key victories that Conservation Colorado achieved were:

  • Extended a successful energy efficiency program (HB 1227)
  • Helped schools test for lead in their water (HB 1306)
  • Outlawed “rolling coal” (SB 278)
  • Defended tax credits for electric vehicles (SB 188)
  • Supported energy assistance to low-income households (HB 1116)
  • Secured funding for healthy rivers (HB 1248)
  • Prevented bills that would seize or sell off our public lands from being introduced

Despite the wins, several other environmental priorities were killed or stalled this session thanks to ideological opposition. These bills included:

  • Funding for the Colorado Energy Office and important clean energy programs, which Republicans held hostage in order to try to provide a windfall for natural gas companies (SB 301)
  • Improvements to transportation infrastructure and multimodal options (HB 1242)
  • Funding for our state parks (HB 1321)
  • Opening up new opportunities for investment in electric vehicle infrastructure (HB 1232)
  • Three measures to keep our communities safe from oil and gas drilling in neighborhoods:
    • Better protecting children from oil and gas wells located near schools (HB 1256)
    • Providing notice and transparency to property and mineral rights owners in the gas patch (HB 1372)
    • Securing mapping of and information about oil and gas lines, a critical necessity in the wake of the Firestone tragedy (HB 1336)

Conservation Colorado will be releasing its annual conservation scorecard with scores for legislators based on their environmental votes during the 2017 legislative session early this summer.

Around the country, over 300,000 people participated in more than 370 marches. In Denver, although the weather forecasted a foot of snow, more than 5,000 people joined the march to show that Coloradans want action to address climate change.

Missed out on the march last weekend? Don’t worry, here are some of the best signs from the day that demonstrate how witty, dedicated and passionate the thousands of Coloradans who attended are about climate action and environmental justice.

1. “There are no jobs on a dead planet”

Will McKay / McKay Photography

 

2. “March Now or Swim Later” and “YOLO Earth! (You Only Live on Earth)”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

3. “Dare to Care for our Air President Billionaire”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

4. “Defend, Not Defund”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

 

5. “Resist Bigly”

Will McKay / McKay Photography

 

6. “Make the Earth Cool Again”

Christian O’Rourke / O’Rourke Photography

 

7. “Heed the Lorax, Save the Planet”

Will McKay / Will McKay Photography

 

8. “Wake Up!”

Christian O’Rourke / O’Rourke Photography

 

9. “People and Planet Over Petroleum and Profit”

Alejandro Silva

 

10. “We Can Fix This”

Skyelar Habberfield / Skyelar Marcus Photography

Last updated: 5/30/2017

Update 5/2/17 3pm: The Denver Post has reported that the fatal Firestone home explosion was the result of a cut supply line running from the nearby gas well. The cut seeped volatile gas into the home that ignited and caused the explosion.

News broke last week that a home explosion in which two people were killed and two were injured may have been caused by an oil and gas well that was located just 178 feet from the home. The news has caused two of Colorado’s top 10 oil and gas companies to temporarily shut down wells in the area.

Whether or not the investigation ultimately determines that a well was the cause, the tragedy is a grim reminder that oil and gas drilling is a dangerous industrial activity. Indeed, there have been several other recent disasters in Colorado caused by oil and gas drilling. Below we take a look at five that have occurred just within the last eight years.

The bottom line is this: there is mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction is dangerous activity, not only for the workers themselves, but also for those in close proximity to facilities. Colorado residents shouldn’t have to fear for their lives on a daily basis, worrying that a well or storage tank less than 500 feet from their home that they’ve been assured is safe is actually a danger to their health, well-being and maybe even their life. We cannot allow oil and gas drilling to take place near homes, schools, and other community buildings.

Oil and gas development isn’t slowing down or going anywhere anytime soon. Particularly in the Front Range, new leases and well pads with unprecedented numbers of wells are being approved within areas that are primarily residential, as seen in these maps of Adams and Arapahoe counties. If we are to prevent future tragic accidents, we must protect not just the areas that are already threatened, but those that face possible development in the months and years to come.

Whether the industry is at fault for the Firestone home explosion or not, this is a wake up call that the safety measures we have in place now are simply not good enough. We’ve long said that the burden of proof for proving that drilling is safe must be on the oil and gas industry. One example of a step the industry can take in response to this tragedy is to agree to a commonsense bill that set oil and gas wells further back from school property, which was voted down by a state Senate committee just a few weeks ago after strong opposition from the industry.

1. Tank Explosion, Mead, May 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

One person died and three were injured on Thursday, May 25th in an oil tank fire in Weld County. Workers were doing maintenance on an Anadarko oil tank battery when the fire sparked and caused the tank to explode.

2. Hudson Blowout, Weld County, January 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

A well blowout caused 28,000 gallons of oil, gas, and drilling waste water to gush from a damaged well over a period of three days. It shut down roads, and the effects were seen as far as 2,000 feet away from the site of the accident.

3. Legacy Elementary School, Frederick, April 2014

Unknown Operator

A storage tank exploded approximately 1,800 feet away from the elementary school and caused all students and teachers to shelter in place. Luckily, no one was injured.

The explosion that occurred just 1,800 feet away from an elementary school in 2014.

 

4. Windsor, February 2013

PDC Energy

A technical failure caused a valve to break and gush oil and green-colored flowback fluid for 30 hours before it was stopped. The spill was contained so that it did not affect nearby residential areas.

5. Ault, June 2013

Noble Energy

A worker failed to open a valve properly which resulted in the backup and eventual release of crude oil over 150,000 square feet of an organic farm. The farm had to scrape away and replace the contaminated soil. There were no reported injuries.

6. De BeQue, Colorado 2009

Unknown Operator

A spring used as a water source at a cabin in Western Colorado was contaminated with BTEX, a carcinogenic combination of benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The owner of the cabin drank multiple cups of the water before he realized it was contaminated. A tested sample of the spring water contained 100 micrograms per liter of BTEX. Five micrograms is the safety threshold for groundwater. A toxicologist with the oil and gas commission told him to get continued blood tests to check for liver or kidney damage. Because his spring is located within 3,000 feet of 18 wells and multiple other oil and gas activities, the exact cause of the contamination is unknown.