Here’s Our Take on Colorado’s New Draft Oil and Gas Rules

  • Oil and gas pump jack in front of mountain landscape

While our personal, family, and community health is our first priority right now, we can’t lose sight of our communities’ enduring work to secure a positive legacy for Colorado’s wildlife, water, air, and people. 

Coloradans have worked for decades to ensure that health and safety are prioritized over oil and gas development and industry profits. And all that hard work finally paid off last year. Thanks to you, our state leaders listened and put public health and safety first by passing strong protections for Colorado’s communities, environment, and wildlife in Senate Bill 19-181, the “Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations” bill. 

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they’re still making the rules to implement Senate Bill 181. This process will determine the real impact of the bill on Colorado’s people and environment. The Commission released their latest draft rules on Monday, March 16, and now they’re looking for input from Coloradans. 

We’ve reviewed these draft rules, and have some comments for the Commission. If you are able, please add your input to help us ensure wins for the environment and people by submitting a comment here.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what’s in these rules, and why they matter. Here’s the short story: the Commission’s new draft rules are a vast improvement from the rules currently governing this industry. The Commission has shown a solid commitment to public health and the environment, but the new rules could do more to fully protect Coloradans. What’s more, wealthy oil and gas interests will keep fighting against progress, in favor of industry profits. 

We want to thank the Commission for prioritizing health and safety, wildlife and our environment — while demanding greater attention to the areas that will truly protect the state we love. As the COGCC prepares to adopt new rules, it’s on all of us to ensure that these changes uphold the commitment Colorado leaders made to protect public health, safety, and the environment with Senate Bill 181. Our collective voice will make all the difference.

If you are able, please submit a comment to the COGCC!

First, here are a few of the things we think are real wins for the environment: 

  • Oil and gas must be farther from schools and drinking water:

    Oil and gas activity must now be at least 2,000 feet away from schools, an improvement from previous 1,000-foot setbacks. It must also be at least 1,000 feet away from public drinking water, an improvement from 300-foot setbacks.

  • Different locations will be considered:

    More proposals will need to be analyzed to see if another location of the oil and gas development would cause less harm to people and the environment. Now, oil and gas proposals near floodplains, 10 or more homes, and high priority habitats must be investigated to see if there is a viable alternative location.

  • Public involvement requirements were improved:

    With the new rules, more people are notified of new oil and gas proposals, and more people have the opportunity to speak up about proposals. The new rules require the Commission to give notice to all landowners, residents, tenants, and building owners within 2,000 feet of a proposed oil and gas development site. The draft rules also provide broad standing, which means people can challenge drilling applications in front of the Commission.

  • Operators must plan for and test water impacts:

    Groundwater testing will now be required every five years over the life of each oil well. Operators must also submit a water plan that will disclose their water source, projected use, and plans for water conservation. 

Despite big wins, several issues remain with these draft rules. We urge the COGCC to make these improvements:

  • More focus on environmental justice:

    Impacts to disproportionately impacted communities were not included in the draft rules. Oil and gas industry rules should ensure that the environmental burdens of development are not disproportionately borne by vulnerable or systematically targeted populations, such as communities of color, communities with low-incomes, or near communities with higher health risks such as the elderly. Improvement in this area would help prevent injustices, such as in Weld County where proposed wells near a majority white and middle class to wealthy school were relocated to near a majority Latino/Hispanic and high free and reduced lunch school.

  • Clarify how to analyze “cumulative impacts”:

    With these new draft rules, the long term impacts of oil and gas on air, water, wildlife, traffic, noise, light, dust, odor, ecosystem, energy and production waste must ALL be considered. However, the rules don’t include details for the analysis process. Without a clearly defined process, there is no guarantee that analyses will consistently protect Colorado’s people and environment.

  • Increase distance between oil and gas development and homes and rivers:

    The new rules only affect oil and gas development within 1,500 feet of 10 or more homes, and operators can request an exemption from the Commission. The new rules do not address setbacks from rivers, putting our streams, rivers, and wildlife at risk.

  • Protect groundwater:

    Despite wins for water conservation and setbacks from surface water, a significant amount of groundwater is not protected. This oversight means about 500 public water supply systems — serving about 670,000 Coloradans — are not protected.

  • Give the Commission director final say:

    The Commision director should have the final say in determining that a proposed oil and gas location sufficiently protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife. Within the new draft rules, the director can defer to local governments’ judgment.

What comes next? 

Now that you know what we’re thinking, we need your help! If you are able, please make your voice heard and submit a comment to the Commission today!

Following the “mission change” rulemaking in May, the Commission will take up several important topics, including climate change, flaring, wildlife, and financial assurances to ensure that operators can and will pay for land reclamation once oil and gas projects finish. To stay involved with this process, visit the COGCC website, become a member, or ask one of our organizers for more information!