COGCC hearings resume in cloud of controversy

*If you would like to listen to live audio of the COGCC Rulemaking hearings click here, then click on live audio under public announcements.*

**Latest update: The Hearing Officer has recommended to the COGCC that COGA’s and CPA’s motions to strike or exclude the testimony and exhibits of the Conservation and Community Groups be deniedClick here to read more.

cogcc logoOn Friday (1/4) when the news broke about the motions to suppress the WCC Combined Witness Testimony, I was working on a post about the latest COGCC draft proposal. On December 31, COGCC staff released a new proposal to increase the distance between well sites and buildings to 500 feet anywhere. For wells within 1,000 feet of a building, operators would be required to notify neighbors and employ measures to address dust, noise, odor and lighting. Operators would also be required to hold a hearing before the COGCC for any well to be located less than 1,000 feet away from high-occupancy buildings, e.g. schools or hospitals.

Colorado set to adopt new oil and gas drilling regs

Rulemaking for oil and gas drilling faces resistance from Boulder County fracking foes: Proposed setback of 500 feet between well, building slammed as ‘superficial’

Hearings resumed today, January 7 in Denver, which has given stakeholders and citizens little time to react to this latest proposal.

Last year Governor Hickenlooper touted the fracking disclosure rules as an achievement but Colorado was certainly not a leader in that regard. The COGCC and the industry were dragged kicking and screaming to the table. Likewise this time around it was a September 20th letter from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter and 12 other organizations including the WCC, to the COGCC requesting that the state begin a rulemaking process for increasing minimum setbacks to 2,000 feet plus groundwater monitoring. When the first draft proposal was revealed in mid-October at WCC’s annual meeting, we were less than impressed. They eliminated the 150-foot setback rule in rural areas and proposed a 350-foot anywhere rule. At the first hearing on November 14, the COGCC heard from all stakeholders. Apparently as result of that hearing they decided on this latest 500-feet setback anywhere proposal.

While some, including COGCC Director Matt Lepore view this as a meet-in-the-middle gesture to satisfy the needs of all stakeholders, many others don’t agree. For reactions to this latest proposal go to Coyote Gulch: COGCC: Proposed modifications to setbacks and ground water monitoring rule fail to quiet conservationists concerns

Conservation Colorado’s Chris Arend summed it up accurately:  “After months of hearing from stakeholders and thousands of citizens across the state who want greater setbacks, the governor’s proposal would still allow heavy industrial activity near our homes and families.”

gas well rifleI believe setbacks should be at least 1,000 feet from homes and 1,500 feet from public buildings – and I consider that a compromise. Coloradans should not be made to sacrifice our public health and communities at the altar of oil and gas development. Heavy industry does not belong in residential areas, near schools, hospitals, or businesses. This is a safety issue as well as a public health issue. Current setbacks — 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet urban areas — are insanely dangerous. Explosions, leaks, and spills have happened and will happen again; rigs have tipped over and will tip over again. Lepore even admits the 500 feet setbacks aren’t meant to address health concerns, and never mentions safety, water, and air quality.

Now we have the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) and the Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) filing motions to block witnesses’ testimonies and conservation groups’ exhibits at the eleventh hour. They always cite the demand for scientific evidence. Yet scientific studies, such as the Battlement Mesa HIA and the Mamm Creek groundwater studies, which support citizens’ testimonies, have been suppressed and never brought to the table for discussion.

Read Conservation Colorado’s statement: Citizens call on Hickenlooper to allow Coloradans voices to be heard

It should escape no one’s attention that the 12 statements in the WCC Combined Witness Testimony which the industry wants to strike come primarily from residents of Garfield County where some of the heaviest drilling activity in the state has occurred in the past ten years. The industry doesn’t want the rest of the world to know what we know.

As for groundwater sampling it’s a no-brainer. How could they not? As much as I hate to say it, it’s too little too late but it must be done. The State should allow for more local regulation when it comes to groundwater monitoring and sampling but the COGCC’s proposal does not. Yet a statewide groundwater testing standard is better than none at all. Because I live in Garfield County, I know the result of “none at all.” Even if the COGCC should adopt this rule it does nothing to address the damage that has already been done to West Slope wells, aquifers, streams, creeks, watersheds, and the Colorado River for the past 10 years. And again studies, such as Divide Creek and Mamm Creek phases 1 & 2 that prove groundwater contamination have been suppressed and are not a part of this rulemaking process.

It’s time for Governor Hickenlooper to be a leader and require the oil and gas industry to adopt rational, common-sense protections for our citizens and the environment.

I have never had the pleasure of attending a COGCC hearing but I have always known that my issues are represented by volunteers from the Western Colorado Congress (including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance). If you are not a member of WCC, please join. The WCC has always been there for us, but in this round of hearings has seized a leadership role. I am so proud of the work they’re doing on our behalf.

wcc logo thumb*This just in from WCC’s Frank Smith:

This week, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) will consider just how far drilling and fracking should be from people. Current rules allow drilling, fracking and other related industry activity can be as close as 150 ft to a house, hospital, school or church. With oil & gas comes heavy dust, bright lights, loud noise, foul odors, loss of property value, and potential risk to safety and health. Drilling, they say, is a way of life in Colorado and you’ve just got to wait it out. Yet it’s increasingly coming to populated areas and there are no extra rules for drilling inside communities.

WCC and its friends from the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center will be making the long trip over the Continental Divide to ensure western Colorado voices are heard by state-level policy makers. Our group will present formal testimony later this week, including comments from impacted landowners and former regulators. Industry even tried unsuccessfully to stop our folks from presenting  — just check out this recent news article.  We’ll get to say Oil & Gas is too close, that public health research is showing initial concern, and locals have the right to hold industry to a higher standard.

Folks from across Colorado–Longmont, Colorado Springs, Battlement Mesa and more–are all calling for protection of public health and quality of life as industrial activity abuts residential areas. Contact the Governor today with your thoughts on “residential setbacks” and moving oil & gas further from people!

Contact Gov. John Hickenlooper!
136 State Capitol Bldg.
Denver, CO 80203-1792

A few thoughts for your letters, calls or emails:

  • Initial public health research says oil & gas near people brings air pollution, health worries and more.
  • Coloradans deserve at least 1,000ft between oil & gas and homes, and at least 1,5000ft from public buildings.
  • Western Slope communities like Battlement Mesa need protection just as much as the populated Front Range.
  • Neighbors, community residents and adjacent landowners need a voice in permitting decisions.
  • The state is proposing new rules encouraging a 500ft buffer, but that’s not far enough!

Want to learn more?  Click here to see the COGCC’s webpage

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