Activists Call For Colorado Regulators To Impose 2,500-Foot Setback, Moratorium On Oil And Gas Permitting In Wake Of SB 181
An anti-fossil fuel group last week issued a call for comments directed at state regulators asking for a 2,500-foot setback and an immediate moratorium on oil and gas permitting for the duration of the agency’s rulemaking process following a contentious battle in the Colorado General Assembly over a reform bill and the failure of a similar setback measure at the ballot box last fall.
The call from 350.org comes as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) takes up rulemaking process following the passage of Senate Bill 181, the comprehensive and controversial reform bill that was signed into law in mid-April, documents show.
The suggested language, directed at COGCC Director Jeff Robbins, COGCC staff and commissioners, directly calls for the imposition of a setback that mirrors the failed Proposition 112. “The COGCC should increase the distances from homes, schools and other occupied buildings beyond what is currently proposed in the objective criteria, given the preponderance of health studies indicating serious harm to public health and safety at distances of 2500’ and beyond,” 350.org writes.
In addition to other considerations the group asks COGCC to impose, including “cumulative climate change impacts” and well density, the group suggests that its members and supporters ask for a halt to all activity related to the agency’s processing of oil and gas permits while the rulemaking process occurs.
“Furthermore, I call for an immediate pause on COGCC permitting during the rulemaking process, and request that all preparatory work be halted at sites that are not fully permitted at the state and local level, including the leasing of minerals and sites that are currently under lawsuit. For instance, sites like the Crestone CDP in Boulder County and several in Broomfield are under lawsuit and subject to further scrutiny under the director’s new criteria,” they added.
“It is blatantly inappropriate for organizations to call for establishing a 2,500-foot setback when Colorado voters soundly defeated Proposition 112 by double digits at the ballot last fall, and given the fact there is no credible science that would justify that approach,” Dan Haley, President of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told Western Wire.
Proposition 112 was defeated by 10 points in November 2018.
“Coloradans spoke in favor of oil and gas jobs and are tired of people trying to overturn their will. It’s also irresponsible to call for an indefinite moratorium on permitting, when bill sponsors and the governor have said repeatedly that SB 181 is not a ban. We’re approaching a complicated rulemaking process where credible stakeholders should be at the table having serious discussions. This extremism has no basis in reality and should be rejected,” he added.
Additional demands suggested by the 350.org form letter include asking the “COGCC to utilize the precautionary principle when creating its new rules,” and to clarify “that local communities now have full authority to enhance regulations, and to adopt local bans, if they do not wish to have oil and gas operations in their communities.”
The precautionary principle includes protecting the public from harmful effects of a product, service, or other public policy issue concerning risk.
Gov. Jared Polis touted the conclusion of the rancorous oil and gas debate as a signal the “oil and gas wars” in Colorado were “over.”
Colorado’s Democrats were at pains throughout the legislative battle over SB 181 to claim the bill was not a ban on oil and gas, even at the local level. “I don’t think any local government … wants to do anything that is not reasonable that is not necessary, and if someone does, they’ll get taken to court,” Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg said. “And that’s how these issues get currently resolved.”
But the Adams County commissioners’ move to pass an oil and gas permitting moratorium in March raised questions about that latitude in calls for local bans or moratoria.
In 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that state law trumped local efforts to curtail oil and gas activities.
Also in demand—”new rules concerning the alleged practice of allowing uncontrolled emissions 90 days,” a claim Haley strongly opposed in a recent op-ed.
“Gov. Jared Polis’ own team confirmed that Colorado’s health department requires state-of-the-art emission controls during the first 90 days of production. However, emissions standards are based on how much a well, or multiple wells on a single site, produce. That is unknown until the well starts producing,” Haley wrote. He rejected the claim by anti-oil and gas groups that this period constituted any kind of “loophole.”
“That initial 90-day period matters because it allows for the issuance of an accurate permit. This is not a regulatory “loophole.” It is an intentional, common-sense permitting system that is based on data, approved by the EPA, and employed in other energy-producing states,” he continued.