Garfield County Commissioners are misusing tax dollars

A very informative article from Peggy Tibbetts, who’s been writing about the anti-fracking and other environmental issues in western Colorado for some time. What’s quite interesting is how locals created a website to show exactly how the county commissioners used tax dollars to resist the implementation of SB-181, which is supposed to protect the health and environment and make that the priority, over promoting the oil and gas industry. It would appear that the Garfield County Commissioners are acting against the intent of the law:

Garfield County Commissioners are misusing tax dollars

Written comments by Rick Casey to the BOCC on the final public input on Larimer County’s O&G regulations

[Author’s Note: I submitted the following comments to the Board of County Commissioners on July 28, 2021 because I did not get the opportunity to speak in the Zoom meeting on Monday night, July 26, 2021. Since the topic of this final meeting was about the financial ability of operators to conduct their business, that was my focus.]

Good evening commissioners, county staff, and the public in attendance:

Thank you for allowing public testimony at tonight’s historic meeting. I and my colleagues in the Larimer Alliance deeply appreciate this opportunity to make our voices heard.

Climate change is barreling down on us, and anybody who is in denial of this reality is either in denial of global scientific evidence or is seriously in need of a mental health checkup. I am sure the county government is on the side of science, factual evidence and the law.

Since this evening’s meeting is primarily about fiscal responsibility of how oil and gas operators conduct their business, I will frame my comments around the long term outlook for how well local operators will be able to continue to operate. I am only a common layperson who reads the news, but having been an economics instructor at Front Range Community College since 2009, I have read deeply into these economic issues.

I would ask the commissioners to be especially wary any operators seeking to drill new wells in the county. The primary economic indicator to which these operators will frantically point is the international price of oil; typically the NY Mercantile Exchange price, which today was $72/bbl. But that price is as unstable as a wind vane: it will change with the winds of change in international economics. Last September, that price was at $36/bbl. The current price is based on recent announcements by OPEC+, which could change tomorrow.

Fundamentally, the long term price of oil is stacked against drilling of any new wells because the forecast for the long term need of oil and gas is, shall we say….unfavorable.

The evidence for this is that the GHG from cars and trucks surpassed the GHG from coal-fired power plants back in 2016 — and has been rising ever since. Coal is at an industrial dead end of life. Though unthinkable a mere decade ago, that industrial dead end is now a reality. The other looming industrial dead end is the drop in future demand of fossil fuels for transportation. The future for this demand is in turmoil.

The use of EV’s, or electric vehicles, is ramping up, and every major car manufacturer in the world, including GM, has announced a target date by when they will cease production of fossil fuel powered vehicles, with dates varying from 2030 to 2050, most by 2035. The state of Colorado is already investing significant state resources in the encouragement of EV’s. We can certainly expect the adoption of EVs to grow dramatically in the next decade.

The date for the end of fossil fuel powered vehicles is just a mere decade and a half away. Although this is a high level macroeconomic projection, it is an undeniable global economic force that the commissioners should consider, for it will undoubtedly have dramatic implications for current investment decisions in the county.

Other macroeconomic factors that could affect investment decisions are national energy policy, such as a possible future carbon tax, which would dramatically impact any local operators’s financial projections.

I have not even begun to address the long term health impacts, which is a whole other argument against allowing any further investment in oil and gas drilling in the county.

Also, all the arguments by private property owners about “takings” are invalid, which SB-181 specifically addressed. These people need to read the law, which was arrived at after years of strenuous democratic activity — and also realize that the national and global imperatives about global climate change far outweighs any of their claims about damage to their private property and income.

Based on this evidence, I think the county should be steering its investments away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy-based industries.

Thank you.

Comments by Doug Henderson presented on behalf of Larimer Alliance July 26, 2021

Comments made by Doug Henderson to the special hearing of the Larimer Board of County Commissioners on July 26, 2021:

Good evening Commissioners,

Colorado state law is clear:  protection of health, safety, welfare and environment has priority in matters of oil and gas development. It is no longer a matter of balancing between competing objectives – between enabling oil & gas development versus protecting people, communities, and the environment.

We have engaged substantially in this policy-making process since its inception. We have identified concerns and put forward recommendations for regulations that will provide reasonable protection related to oil & gas development, in accord with Colorado law. We have provided reasons and evidence to support our concerns and recommendations.

However, many of our recommendations have been rejected by County staff, without explanation or evidence to support these decisions.

So again at this hearing, in coalition with LOGIC and others, we are urging that the draft County regulations be revised in a number of critical areas. Our specific recommendations have been detailed by other speakers and in our written submissions.

In last weeks’ Planning Commission hearing, we heard clearly the rationale that underlies many important provisions and standards in the proposed draft regulations. The proposed provisions and standards are based on staff’s view of an acceptable balance between competing aims: protecting public health, safety, and the environment versus enabling oil and gas development. Presentations and explanations were framed repeatedly in terms of balancing – or as legal counsel said, weighing – between competing objectives and interests.

Notably absent from presentations and discussion was concern for ensuring reasonable protection of health, safety, and environment, even though such protection holds clear primacy under Colorado law.

For example, all rationale given for the proposed setbacks and reverse setbacks was based on balancing enabling oil and gas development versus protection. Staff presented maps showing special effects of setback distances, ensuing discussion revolved around these maps, especially concern that larger setbacks would preclude O&GFs in more areas. Absent was consideration or evidence regarding what setback distances are needed to achieve reasonable protection.

County staff justified the proposed regulation to allow surface use of public conservation lands for oil and gas development for reason that doing so could avoid oil and gas development on adjacent high-value agriculture land – the rationale being that protecting ag land would justify oil & gas development on conservation lands. Absent was consideration that protecting public conservation lands is the priority, and without compromise by necessity to enable oil and gas development.

We could cite other examples that illustrate a pre-SB181 ‘balancing’rationale for the proposed regulations, a rationale that is now at odds with Colorado law.

When the Planning Commissioners asked questions of staff, almost all the questions revolved around concern for enabling oil and gas development in the County, and there was essentially no attention to ensuring reasonable protection of health, safety, and the environment.

Frankly, it was astonishing to listen to questions, answers, and discussion that were unconcerned about whether the proposed regulations will provide reasonable protection, and without reference to the priority mandated by Colorado law for protection of health, safety, welfare and environment.

The final conclusion by the Planning Commission Chair was also noteworthy. In his view, an acceptable balance had been achieved because proponents of oil and gas development and advocates for health, safety, and environment all expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed regulations.

From this perspective, the rationale provided by staff – and the Planning Commission approval – of the proposed regulations is based on pre-181 rationale for policy, and fails a most basic test and requirement: that set by Colorado law.

We urge you to consider the recommendations we and others have put forward, and ensure that the County’s regulations will provide reasonable protection against known and foreseeable dangers, nuisance impacts, and harm that often result from O&G development.

Respectfully,

Doug Henderson
Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, & the Environment

Larimer Alliance Blog