By: Asheton Gilbertson

Looking back to the 2019 legislative session, it’s clear that decision makers made the right call to pursue oil and gas reform, changing the state’s outdated laws to prioritize public health and safety.

Within the span of two weeks, 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 were no fluke.

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 with corporations at the helm — leaving residents on the sidelines.

These issues persisted for far too long.

Thankfully, with the passage of Senate Bill 181, our state legislators enacted common-sense reforms to better protect public health, safety, and our environment over corporate profits.

Now it’s time to craft the rules necessary to support this mission change. Looking back to how things were for Coloradans under the former mission, there’s no question why we need to take action to esnusre the strongest protections for our communities and environment.

Oil and Gas rig close to homes

Before the passage of Senate Bill 181, the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC)—the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry—was to “foster” exploration and production of oil and gas resources and protect public health, safety, and welfare.

These priorities were fundamentally in conflict with one another, which came to no surprise to those 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. He reflected on the relationship between the COGCC and communities before the mission change, saying “[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 about the former mission, saying it was “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 was abundantly clear: the former system was broken.

People deserve a say in what happens in their own neighborhoods.

But prior to Senate Bill 181 passing, local governments could be sued for trying to respond to oil and gas development. This was 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.

Portrait of Leslie Robinson

Leslie Robinson

As oil and gas operations move closer to our homes, schools and parks, Coloradans are increasingly exposed to toxic air pollutionspills, explosions and fires, and a host of health impacts including cancer, birth defects and asthma.

These concerns went largely ignored, leaving our communities and environment to bear the consequences.

Leslie and Dave are two residents who know firsthand what it’s like to live with the fear of how their communities will be impacted.

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.

Portrait of Dave Devanney

Dave Devanney

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. And now that the COGCC’s mission has changed, rules will determinine the future of our state.

Each year, hundreds of spills occur in Colorado, countless wells are abandoned, and thousands of property owners are forced to sell their mineral rights through a practice known as “forced pooling.”

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 to act. Building on the momentum of the 2019 legislative session, our decision makers have the responsibility and the opportunity to stick to their directive to put our communities’ health first.

Want to get involved? Submit a comment to the COGCC!