Citizens’ heads explode at COGCC meeting

“You have blood on your hands,” Zabrina Arnovitz told COGCC commissioners on Monday. [CBS-4 News Denver]

Dozens of citizens and representatives from environmental groups raised holy hell at the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) meeting on Monday.

Protestors raised signs and chanted: “No more drilling! No more Permits! Stop the appeal!”

At the core of the furor is public outrage over the commissioners’ decision to appeal the Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in the Martinez v COGCC case last March, which says the environment and public health are preconditions that must be met before industry can extract oil and gas.* [See overview below]

The state’s decision to appeal the ruling came in the wake of the fatal home explosion in Firestone last April, which killed homeowner Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joey Irwin, and seriously injured Mark’s wife Erin. An apartment complex is currently under construction near the explosion site.

“You have blood on your hands,” Zabrina Arnovitz told the commissioners. “By allowing new permits for gas and oil, you are killing people. When a house blows up from a faulty well, it’s your fault.”

Lafayette resident Andrew O’Connor asked: “My question is, where’s the outrage for the two people that were incinerated in Firestone?”

“Breathing issues and ruining our water. Now we’re also worried about our houses blowing up,” said Barbara Gray of Lakewood.

“You’re all planting ticking time bombs next to and underneath peoples’ homes,” said Lauren Petrie of Food and Water Watch. “You should all change your name to the Colorado Oil and Gas Collusion Commission, because you’re not representing the public in any way, shape or form in anything that you’re doing.”

Citizens are also upset that COGCC staffers press on with permits for more new oil & gas operations in communities and residential subdivisions while questions about public health and safety go unanswered and residents feel ignored.

A proposal to drill more than 200 wells between Lafayette and Longmont has infuriated Boulder County residents.

“This is ridiculous. This has got to stop. We’ve got to stop the permits, we’ve got to look at the health of people of Colorado,” said Vivian Weinstein.

“I am angered and disgusted that the state of Colorado and our legislators have allowed ourselves to be sold out for cheap not even to the highest bidder,” said Mary Henry of Lafayette.

Dr. Larry Moore from El Paso County asked: “How can we not choose clean air and water for our children?”

Denver resident Cleo Dioletis warned, “I’m telling you guys, you aren’t aware how much anger there is in this state. There are people who want to sell their homes because of fracking and they can’t. Nobody will buy their homes. Thank you for letting me speak. But you people? You disgust me.”

As commissioners prepared to take a break from the barrage of citizenry, the 70-year old Dioletis chided them, “You should all be ashamed of yourselves!”

Eventually Colorado State Patrol troopers firmly accompanied the citizen protestors out of the meeting room. There were no arrests.

[Photo credit: CBS-4 News Denver]

Phil Doe, environmental director for Be The Change, told the Denver Post: “We’re going to have to change our strategy, because this strategy isn’t working. Civil disobedience is right around the corner. We have been after this for six fricking years and nothing has changed.” Doe is a former EPA employee.

Afterward, in an interview with CBS-4 News, COGCC Director Matt Lepore said, “Anybody who thinks that the Firestone incident hasn’t affected us just couldn’t be more wrong.”

LePore claimed there is new information about the explosion, saying that the uncapped pipeline in question was connected to an abandoned flow line. He said the commission has collected data on more than 7,500 other abandoned flow lines around the state and conducted more than 30,000 safety tests.

In the next legislative session State Rep. Lori Saine, (Republican-Firestone) plans to bring forward a bill to map flow lines across Colorado.

However last May, Colorado House Republicans filibustered a bill that would have required oil and gas operators to disclose the locations of existing pipelines and plans for construction of new pipelines. Five Republicans spoke until the deadline for the bill passed at midnight, just two days before the legislative session ended.

If passed, the bill would have required all oil & gas operators to locate and map all pipelines, and disclose that information to the COGCC. The agency would then make the data public on its website. Lepore said that’s something the commission is planning to look into whether that bill is passed or not.

To which I would add they’ve been talking about mapping the damn pipelines ever since I can remember. It’s their appeasement strategy. The angry crowd pleaser. Don’t hold your breath.

**********

*Here is an overview of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in the Martinez v COGCC case as described in the Denver Post:

The court case rose in 2013 when teenagers and attorneys proposed that Colorado not issue any new permits for oil and gas drilling “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third-party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”

The appeals court judges interpreted the mission of the COGCC to require more than balancing industry interests with protection of people and the environment. The judges reversed a lower court and elevated protection of public health and the environment to “a condition that must be fulfilled” by the state before oil and gas drilling can be done.

State lawmakers created the COGCC to regulate oil and gas development, charging it with fostering “responsible, balanced” development, production and use of oil and gas “in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”

COGCC officials for more than a decade interpreted those words to mean balancing oil and gas industry interests against public health, safety and welfare. This led to drilling more than 50,000 wells in the state, including thousands near people north of metro Denver and hundreds inside municipal limits in cities including Broomfield, Erie and Greeley.

But the judges determined that the COGCC mandate “was not intended to require that a balancing test be applied.

Rather, they wrote, the clear language of the statute “mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”

Sources:

Tensions boil over during public comment at oil and gas meeting

Activists To Oil And Gas Commission: ‘You Have Blood On Your Hands’

Heated oil and gas meeting ends with protesters being escorted out

Frustrated Colorado anti-oil and gas activists turn toward civil disobedience
Activists vented fury, then disrupted COGCC meeting

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