Proposed gas regulations get personal for many on the Western Slope
About six signs bearing phrases like “oil and gas supports clean air” dotted the Rifle city chambers Tuesday for the Air Quality Control Commission’s public hearing on new oil and gas regulations.
“How many people with all these signs live within a half a mile of an active oil site?” Jennifer Moore asked in her public comments.
One man cautiously raised his hand. Someone in the back muttered, “I work on them.”
More than 90 people crowded into the room at Rifle City Hall, taking turns standing in the doorway.
Proponents of the Air Quality Control Commission’s two draft regulations tightening rules on methane emissions outnumbered those opposed by more than three to one.
Out of 60 speakers hailing from across the Western Slope, 46 supported the stricter requirements for oil and gas companies statewide, and 14 spoke in opposition.
Proponents of the rules say the statewide regulations are common sense, and essential to preserving the Western Slope’s relatively clean air. Those opposed say the regulations would be burdensome and unnecessary for gas extraction on this side of the Rocky Mountains.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Gary Moyer said “we don’t have an air quality issue” as the Front Range does, and the regulations for that region aren’t needed on the western slope.
But many speakers support the rules, hoping they will preserve the clean air.
Glenwood Springs mayor pro tem Shelley Kaup acknowledged that Garfield County, which sits on one of the largest natural gas reserves in the country, has extensive air monitoring and generally clean air.
“This cannot be taken for granted, and it could change dramatically,” Kaup said.
“Glenwood Springs’ economy is driven by tourism and recreation. We rely on clean air, clean water, and a healthy natural environment,” Kaup said.
Industry proponents also used economics to argue their position.
“Each time another overreaching rule is made, we lose businesses and employees in many other sectors, not only the oil and gas industry,” said C.J. Rhyne of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
Paonia organic farmer Michael Straub held up an inhaler, and said he supports the rules in part because he doesn’t want his asthma to get any worse. But Straub, and others, said the proposed rules also could help address climate change.
“I think that methane increases the risk of climate change and drought… Everything we can do to help limit that would be great,” Straub said.
A few commenters on both sides got personal with their comments.
“As you look around the room, you will see that those of us who work closest to the wellhead are in significantly better health than those who have lived on a steady diet of fear and granola,” Durango resident Carla Neal said in her comments.
“I’m not trying to shut down the industry,” said Moore, who works with activist group 350 Roaring Fork. Moore said she only wants accountability from the gas industry before it damages the environment for future generations.
“This is a moral issue. Do we stand up and do something to what is happening to Colorado’s environment, or are we going to allow an industry to bully us?” Moore said.
The commission will next meet in Loveland on Monday.
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