Guest column: State, not Garfield County, should set oil and gas rules
When the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 181 and Gov. Polis signed it into law many of us in Battlement Mesa had new hope that our community would be a healthier and safer place to live in the future.
Unfortunately, we are still living under a cloud of uncertainty about our future here and throughout Garfield County and other parts of Northwest Colorado. That’s because the Garfield County Board of Commissioners is fighting hard against the common-sense changes in the way oil and gas development will be regulated under the new law. And they’re fighting with our money.
In June, the commissioners allocated $500,000 for “experts and consultants” to fight the implementation of SB 181 on the Western Slope and promised to spend more money if needed. The fact that the commissioners are using our property and sales taxes to support one of the most well-financed industries in the world is in itself an affront to good governance.
But what really appalls me is the fact that our money is being used to undermine a new law that is specifically written to protect the health, safety and welfare of Colorado residents and protect the environment so many rely on for their economic well-being. Those issues are front and center here in Battlement Mesa, where we face the prospect of natural gas wells being developed inside the boundaries of our small community, and already live with hundreds of existing wells located just outside.
When Senate Bill 181 became law in April, there was much cause for celebration in Battlement Mesa. The law overhauls the entire way our state makes decisions about oil and gas development, for the first time prioritizing public health and safety and environmental protections above industry profits.
SB 181 does many important things, two of which require rulemaking action by the state. It recasts the mission of the state’s primary regulatory body for energy development, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, from “fostering” development of oil and gas to “regulating” the industry to protect public health, safety and welfare, and the environment. It also directs the Air Quality Control Commission to enact rules that limit methane emissions, which affect the climate, and cut the amount of ozone in the air, which causes asthmatic attacks and threatens the respiratory health of children and older residents.
Right now both state agencies are working hard to respond positively to the new law to the benefit of all Coloradans and the stunning environment we live in. This provided us with hope that things would be different with natural gas development in the future, because SB 181 ensures it is happening responsibly, in a manner that moves large scale industrial development and the associated risks away from people.
Many Western Slope residents have long pressed for oil and gas reform to protect our health, our lands, our waters and our wildlife from irresponsible oil and gas development. Now, we must keep up the work to make sure our Western Slope communities are protected under the new law. The COGCC is meeting in Glenwood Springs at the Hotel Colorado today and tomorrow and taking public comment from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on these new protections. Please join us in person or send written comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfortunately, Garfield County has been working hard to undermine this important work. In addition to spending $500,000 of our tax dollars to fight local implementation of SB 181, the commissioners are leading — and funding — the charge to “carve out” the Piceance Basin here in Western Colorado from these new protections by arguing that county governments should be able to regulate the region as they see fit.
From our experience, this means business as usual and putting industry profits above public health and safety. Garfield County is not to be trusted with oil and gas decision making. Just look at their track record: the commissioners approved four pads with 118 natural gas wells within the residential neighborhoods of Battlement Mesa. One of these pads even broke state safety rules and was approved by the commissioners within 500 feet of a neighborhood.
It’s critical that the COGCC and the AQCC enact strong protections for all Coloradans. Our health in Battlement Mesa is no less important than the health and safety of people living on the Front Range. We call on all Garfield County residents to support the COGCC rules that look to protect the public health and safety of all Coloradans.
Dave Devanney retired from the tech industry and moved with his wife to Battlement Mesa in 2004. He is the chairman of Battlement Concerned Citizens, a group formed to protect the community from effects of fracking and gas drilling.
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