COGCC streamlines complaint-filing process
RIFLE — Unlike a lot of other counties in Colorado, Garfield County residents have several options to file complaints regarding oil and gas development. They can call Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison or contact the Community Counts program to be put in touch with an oil and gas operator.
For more formal complaint filings, a written notice should be filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Recently, the COGCC streamlined its process of filing complaints, with a link on its website, Marc Morton, local government liaison for the COGCC, said at a recent meeting of the Energy Advisory Board held in Rifle.
“We took a robust look at our complaint process and wanted to increase our transparency and effectiveness,” Morton said. “We don’t want to eliminate filing complaints by phone, but we encourage people to utilize our online tool if that’s available to them.”
The website provides information on what is needed to file an official written complaint, and a question and answer page about the process.
A complaint may be filed anonymously, but COGCC does ask for contact information so a staff member can follow up, if needed.
The complaints page also offers a way to track a complaint once it has been filed.
“The most common complaints we receive are about noise, dust, noise, odor, water quality, noise, vibration and air quality,” Morton said. “Noise is our biggest complaint.”
Whether the new complaint system will make much difference is yet to be seen, according to Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which acts as a citizens watchdog group over oil and gas development in the area and who is also a member of the EAB.
“We’ll see,” Robinson said. “It’s one thing to complain. The problem has always been not the process, but how they respond and how quickly they respond.”
Robinson pointed out odor, for example, often dissipates by the time someone responds.
“We’re talking 24 hours, and by that time, the odor is long gone,” she said.
COGCC has also sought to improve the way it handles complaints internally.
“If the complaint is related to any action the COGCC regulates, we will investigate and resolve all complaints,” Morton said. “We’ve changed how we handle it internally and externally.”
The COGCC has also established a new routing system. In the past, a complaint may have been sent to four or five people. Although several people are sometimes needed to resolve a complaint, the new system helps to streamline the system.
Robinson acknowledged that the new complaint process makes it simpler for people to complain.
“But as far as putting more boots on the ground, it may not help that much,” she said. “We’ve got 10,000 wells in Garfield County and two COGCC guys. How can they possibly do everything and respond to the complaints as well?
COGCC has also increased penalties. In the past, there was a $1,000 cap per-day maximum for violations, which is now $15,000.
But sometimes a complaint is best handled locally, according Garfield County oil and gas liaison Kirby Wynn, who said he is available 24 hours a day. There is also Community Counts, a nonprofit, community-based program designed to offer residents a timely resource to discuss issues, concerns or questions relating to the natural gas and oil industry and put them in contact with operators in their area.
“Many other local governments don’t have someone available by phone 24 hours a day,” Wynn said. “Or a Community Counts, which has direct access to all the operators in the area. And most of the time, somebody needs to get ahold of somebody quickly to talk to an operator. Their number one concern is to make (the problem) go away, not to file a form or go to a website.”
However, the COGCC site is good for those needing to file a formal complaint, Wynn added.
“If someone wants to file something with the state, they have to file it in writing if they want a formal status,” he said. “They can call in the state regulators when warranted. It’s all about respecting people’s concerns and handling it.”
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