Industry Leaders Call On COGCC To Respect Will Of Voters, Not Backdoor 2018’s Prop 112 Setbacks
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee (COGCC) stunned industry Wednesday by favoring a rule change that would quadruple the setback requirements for oil and gas operations—a proposal like one that voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2018.
In response, industry leaders are urging the commission to reconsider its decision and recall that voters made a clear statement to regulators and have already rejected increasing the setback requirement.
“Less than two years ago, the voters of Colorado made it clear they do not support unnecessarily punitive or onerous setbacks by voting down Proposition 112,” said Lynn Granger, executive director of API Colorado, who told Western Wire that the group was “very disappointed” with the commission’s discussions and called the decision to increase the statewide setback “unwarranted” and “a political decision rather than a sound policy decision.”
“Today, we heard commissioners make comments that failed to account for the hundreds of other regulations outside of setbacks that are being considered in this rulemaking that will make Colorado’s already safe oil and natural gas industry even safer. We would encourage the commissioners to take a step back and consider the immeasurable damage this decision could cause to our industry and to our economy,” she added.
In 2018, voters rejected Proposition 112 by a 10-point margin. The measure would have increased the state setback requirement from 500 to 2,500 feet. Though disappointed with the results, anti-energy groups, including Colorado Rising, promised that the fight was not over and left open the possibility of pushing for a future ballot measure.
However, in a session on Wednesday to review proposed setback rule changes, four out of the five newly appointed commissioners supported an extended setback to protect public health and safety and to reduce nuisances. Only Bill Gonzalez, a former oil and gas industry executive, expressed concern about the setback.
“I don’t think that is the right number and the right way of going about it,” he said.
Leading figures in the state’s oil and gas industry agree, speaking out against the COGCC for imposing a heavy-handed regulation by fiat rather than working with industry to find a compromise.
“Coloradans overwhelmingly voted down greater setbacks just two years ago, and the state lawmakers who passed Senate Bill 181 consistently said the law wouldn’t create the same type of dire outcomes envisioned by the activists who pushed for greater setbacks. Yet here we are, facing the same blunt and shortsighted approach of Proposition 112,” said Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Dan Haley.
The commission appears to be moving away from a collaborative approach, focusing instead on resurrecting a push for increased setbacks that the state’s voters already rejected.
“We supported at least 80 percent of what COGCC staff proposed in the draft rules, and for commissioners to ignore all of that work over the past year and fold a politically driven 2,000 foot setback increase into this rulemaking, without any legitimate scientific evidence demonstrating its need, is shameful,” Haley said.
Increasing the setback requirement in a manner similar to 2018’s Prop 112 effort would shut down a large amount of production in the state, dealing a substantial blow to an industry that has already been struggling to survive an oil price crash earlier this year.
“The setback recommendation is completely arbitrary, not based on science, and is being made without any legitimate consideration of its impacts on working families across our state, all while unemployment remains high and our economy flounders in recession,” Haley continued.
Aside from economic considerations, Haley said that COGCC commissioners and non-partisan staff are at odds, indicating a shift away from science-based and economically informed decision-making in favor of head-scratching government regulations.
“Non-partisan COGCC staff, which has decades of experience protecting public health and safety in Colorado, put forward recommendations based on their years of working with stakeholders. Those recommendations were dismissed by commissioners who promised to be guided by science and data, but instead today turned to arbitrary and unjustified setbacks distances that provide no additional protection and will stifle Colorado’s economic recovery,” he added.