Part 2: A Right to Shape Your Community’s Future

Before the COVID-19 pandemic put our communities at risk and moved much of our work online, we sat down with Dave Devanney and Leslie Robinson, two Coloradans living on the front lines of oil and gas development. Dave and Leslie have worked for years to protect their communities from the hazards of the oil and gas industry. While our community’s immediate health and safety continues to be our first priority, we must not lose sight of those on the frontlines of heavy industry — those who are likely to bear a greater impact of coronavirus. Now is the time to chart a new course of action to secure our health and safety today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

Senate Bill 181, which passed in 2019, was a monumental stride to protect Colorado’s communities, wildlife and environment. But our work isn’t finished. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) still needs to interpret and implement Senate Bill 181, making rules that will determine the most significant impacts on the lives of Coloradans. 

One important change that the COGCC will discuss is expanding the definitions of who is eligible to request a hearing in regards to oil and gas applications. Commonly referred to as “standing” and “notice,” together, these rules define who receives notification when a new oil and gas application is filed, how they receive notice, and who has the ability to challenge an application in front of the COGCC. Improved standing and notice requirements would support people and communities who may be adversely impacted by oil and gas development.

The COGCC proposed new standing and notice rules for good reason. Historically, the oil and gas industry has found loopholes in standing and notice requirements by placing wells between jurisdiction boundaries, and has prevented community members from advocating in their best interests. But, despite this exclusion, people have fought to make their voices and community needs heard. 

Dave Devanney and Leslie Robinson are two leaders who have worked for years to ensure their communities are informed and active in the fight for a healthy environment and future. In Part 2 of Majority Rules, Dave and Leslie explain how their experiences living on the front lines of oil and gas development in Garfield County inspire them to take action and organize their communities. 

Dave Devanney is the Chairman of Battlement Concerned Citizens, a citizen group formed to protect his community from the effects of oil and gas drilling. This is his story on the importance of communities being informed and having a say in what happens in their backyards.

Portrait of Dave Devanney

The industry and its regulators are not in the business of notifying the public. That’s just something that doesn’t happen. Often, the only form of notification is word of mouth: community members learn secondhand about spills from those that work in the industry. When news comes out about the impacts of oil and gas, public officials often dismiss, obfuscate, and deflect. That’s what we deal with in Battlement Mesa.  

Our community has been impacted by oil and gas since May 2009 when it was announced that 200 wells would be drilled within a 3200 acre planned unit development (PUD) in Battlement Mesa — an area that 5,000 people call home. Because drilling within the PUD required a special use permit, oil and gas activities first developed leases directly outside of Battlement Mesa. When the oil and gas companies announced that they would move development within the boundaries of the PUD, community members attended zoning commission hearings, county commission hearings, pleaded with commissioners to do a health impact assessment — but regulators did not listen. 

As Battlement Mesa residents, the regulators had not been friendly to us. They were not helping citizens deal with the issues of oil and gas in their neighborhoods. But now, with rulemakings to enforce the oil and gas mission change of Senate Bill 181, the COGCC has an opportunity to step up for Colorado.  

My community knows that there’s an impact to health and safety with oil and gas development so close to homes, but officials seldom publicize that information.

I can see what the industry is doing to our environment — studies show the damage to our health and wildlife. We all have to step up to take action because it’s necessary for our kids to grow up healthy. For as long as I can, I’m going to do as much as I can.

Leslie Robinson is the Chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and a long-term resident of Garfield County. This is her perspective on why it’s important to know the facts about industry, and use our voices to fight injustice.

Portrait of Leslie Robinson

Prior to Senate Bill 181 passing, the COGCC repeatedly excluded community members from accessing information about new wells and the hazards and health impacts of oil and gas development. 

For one, they buried spill information on their website, which is confusing and takes a long time to navigate. Also, in conducting their own Health Impact Assessment, they discounted the validity of the study, which stated that drilling operations would have negative impacts on residents living within a one-half mile radius. That’s when oil and gas companies freaked out and Garfield County Commissioners pulled the plug on financing that health study.

Still, I am very optimistic that the COGCC’s history of industry excluding community members and committing injustices can change with its new mission to protect health and the environment. 

Now that Senate Bill 181 gave the COGCC a directive to consider health and welfare ahead of oil and gas industry profits, the rulemakings the commission will conduct will mean the difference between meaningful changes and a rubber stamp for industry. 

But meaningful changes to the mission will require us, those impacted by industry, to speak out. In 2016, Dave and I helped form the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC) to unite voices from across the state. But there are barely a million people on the entire Western Slope, and making our voices heard can require travel to the Capitol — a 500 mile round trip, missed days of work, and personal risk during dangerous winter weather conditions. The many barriers to Western Slope community members’ participation in oil and gas politics exist to keep us out of the process, which gives us all the more reason to speak up. 

I don’t have any children myself, but I don’t want to ruin the world for the next generation. I have the time and the inclination. I’d like to be involved with oil and gas politics. It’s a full-time job for me, unpaid. But it’s important to be a voice. I can contribute that.

Oil and Gas rig close to homes

Heavy industry does not belong in anyone’s backyard.

Dave and Leslie’s stories show the ways regulations impact communities. Standing and notice requirements mean being able to understand and participate in what’s happening in your community. And that participation is the foundation of a healthy future that works for all people.

We can look to Dave and Leslie as role models in advocating for their community, but it’s going to take all of us to secure our positive legacy on Colorado’s lands, water, wildlife, and communities. Our work to secure Colorado’s long term safety from oil and gas hazards continues — even remotely.

Ready to take action?

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