When it comes to oil and gas development in Colorado, our legislators can’t revisit the state’s outdated laws soon enough.
From January 14 to 29, Coloradans witnessed: cleanup efforts of a pipeline leaking thousands of gallons of contaminants along the Colorado River; over a thousand gallons of natural gas fluids flow into Parachute Creek; and oil and gas regulators decline to hold a hearing about their approval of a natural gas well pad located 500 feet from homes in Battlement Mesa.
And these problems are not new.
For communities on the frontiers of oil and gas development, the past decade has been marked by the expansion of heavy industry into their backyards. At the same time, regulators have allowed industry to call the shots while leaving communities on the sidelines.
These issues have persisted for far too long. Our state legislators must enact common-sense reforms that prioritize health, safety, and our environment over corporate profits.
Colorado’s current oil and gas policies protect industry profits, not people.
As it stands, the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC)—the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry—is to “foster” exploration and production of oil and gas resources and protect public health, safety, and welfare.
These priorities are fundamentally in conflict with one another, which is no surprise to those who have been impacted by oil and gas development.
“The COGCC is an arm of the industry,” said Dave Devanney, Battlement Mesa resident and Chairman of Battlement Concerned Citizens, a group formed to protect the community from the effects of fracking and drilling. “[It’s] not helping citizens deal with the issues of oil and gas in their neighborhoods. There are very little consequences.”
Leslie Robinson, a Garfield County resident and Chair of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a community group raising awareness about oil and gas impacts, shared this sentiment by saying, “The mission of the COGCC is to encourage oil and gas development in Colorado and make sure that the royalty owners can get to their assets as cheaply as possible. That’s it.”
To community members, it’s clear: the current system is broken.
People deserve a say in what happens in their own neighborhoods.
In Colorado, local governments can be sued for trying to respond to oil and gas development. This is problematic not only because local governments should have a say in what their communities look like, but because of the health impacts that oil and gas operations can have on our families and environment.
As oil and gas operations move closer to our homes, schools and parks, Coloradans are increasingly exposed to toxic air pollution, spills, explosions and fires, and a host of health impacts including cancer, birth defects and asthma.
But even as new technologies allow operators to expand into heavily populated urban and suburban neighborhoods, these concerns are largely ignored. Though oil and gas development has evolved rapidly over the past decade, our laws and regulations haven’t kept pace, leaving our communities and environment to bear the consequences.
Leslie and Dave know firsthand what it’s like to live with the fear of what these impacts will have on their communities.
Leslie experienced the potential danger of oil and gas development when a spill happened on the same day that the COGCC announced a new natural gas pad would be drilled in Battlement Mesa. The pad—located only 508 feet away from homes and 600 feet from the Colorado River—alarmed the community. Leslie and others asked the COGCC to more closely examine the impacts and dangers of the project, but the community’s calls fell on deaf ears.
As a resident living in close proximity to the proposed natural gas pad, Dave knows that we shouldn’t drill “where our kids go to school and where they play—where we [all] live, work and play.”
Regulators need better tools for ensuring that industry operations are responsible, accountable, and transparent.
We need more inspectors to ensure wells, gathering sites, and storage facilities are maintained and operated properly. We also need clearer standards to hold oil and gas operators accountable for any damage that they cause to our landscapes, rivers and communities. Not only for us, but for Colorado’s air, water, wildlife, and future generations.
“It’s necessary for our kids to grow up in a healthy environment,” said Dave.
“I don’t have any children myself, but I don’t want to ruin the world for the next generation. It’s important to be a voice,” said Leslie.
It is past time for our state legislators to act. With the 2019 legislative session underway, our elected leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to reform this broken, outdated system and put our communities’ health first.