WCC weighs in on oil & gas rulemaking

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WCC weighs in on oil & gas rulemaking

by Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer

drill rigIn the wake of an unpopular compromise to keep a slew of oil and gas initiatives off of the November ballot, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is now considering new rules to govern drilling within residential communities. The rules could also affect the role local governments can play in deciding where and how drilling is done.

Although the rulemaking is very narrow in focus, and a far cry from the solution that people across the state are calling for, the process could provide more leverage for communities dealing with drilling proposals on their doorsteps, such as Battlement Mesa.

In July and August, the COGCC and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hosted meetings across the state to gather initial input from stakeholders. The “stakeholders” included industry reps and local governments, of course – but the COGCC also invited input from impacted community organizations.

The process presents us with a potentially powerful opportunity. We’re coordinating with other grassroots groups around the state to deliver a unified message on behalf of communities in the crosshairs of oil and gas development. What they need, above all, is better regulations that give them more control over where, when and how development will occur.

The COGCC’s rulemaking process gives us a platform for making that argument as a group.
To do so, we’ve retained the services of Western Energy Law Partners, a firm headed by former WCC Executive Director Matt Sura. Matt has racked up extensive experience representing groups advocating for reform of Colorado’s oil and gas regulations, and last fall he served on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force that led to the current rulemaking.

Our suggestions for reform

In late July, leaders from WCC, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (our Garfield County chapter) and Battlement Concerned Citizens met in Rifle with top-level COGCC and DNR staff. To have real influence on the proposed rules, it was critical to introduce our input into in the process early on.

We made the following recommendations to provide relief for impacted communities:

  • The COGCC Director must be given the authority to locate large-scale oil and gas facilities away from homes, schools and neighborhoods (as is the case in Wyoming).
  • All residential areas deserve protection from large scale oil and gas development – rural Western Slope communities shouldn’t get second-class treatment just because they’re less densely populated.
  • When drilling in a residential area, oil and gas companies should be required to provide comprehensive development plans so that local governments and communities can negotiate in good faith and knowledge of future activity.
  • Aggrieved landowners should have an equal voice before the COGCC, independent of their local government.
  • Large-scale oil and gas facilities sited near residential areas should be subject to stronger air and water quality mitigations to protect the health of residents.

Pretty basic requests, wouldn’t you say? Our recommendations were well received, although nothing is guaranteed until the final rules are written.

Of course industry has already begun pushing back, claiming that things are just peachy here on the Western Slope when it comes to oil and gas and that no new regulations are needed.
As always, the hard work of convincing the state that change is needed will fall on the shoulders of concerned citizens across the state.

After the stakeholder meetings have concluded, the COGCC will release a draft rule in September for public comment. Final arguments and testimony will be presented at a formal hearing in December.

We’ll keep you posted as we work our way through the rulemaking maze and we’ll let you know how you can be involved. Be sure to sign up for our email list, if you’re not on it already.

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