Activism in a Pandemic

Where is the Larimer Alliance headed as 2020 draws to a close?

As this difficult year draws to a close, the steering committee for the Larimer Alliance wanted to communicate where we stand and where we see us headed in 2021. We do not think we are yet safe from the oil & gas industry here in Larimer County…but we do feel safer due to some big developments in 2020, which were:

  • COGCC decided on its new mission change rules, with some dramatic changes from its past behavior
  • Two new county commissioners elected, both Democrats which the Alliance endorsed
  • A global pandemic that began in March 2020 has dramatically reduced worldwide demand for oil and gas, reducing the incentive to drill new wells

The Larimer Alliance is carefully weighing how to proceed to achieve our goal of protecting the people and environment of Larimer County. We take this role seriously, and are doing what we do because we believe it is necessary; and we absolutely rely on you, our readers and members, to voice your support for these goals. Hopefully in 2021, after the dissemination of an effective Covid vaccine allows us to interact more normally, the Alliance will be able to interact with you and our community on a more personal basis.

When the pandemic hit, the Alliance steering committee pivoted to Zoom meetings, went with the flow, and continued to meet throughout 2020 on a biweekly basis. Our main regret is that we were not able to hold any in-person events this fall, which is our main way to do fundraising.

When SB-181 was passed in April 2019, we knew it would take a while to implement; appropriately enough, it was not until after weeks of hearings begun in summer 2020, the COGCC finally concluded its main hearings resulting from SB-181, which have fundamentally changed the mission of the COGCC, can be viewed in its entirety here.

The main points of that change were:

  • A 2,000 foot setback of any new O&G projects from occupied buildings, with no exceptions allowed
  • Require alternative site location analysis for all well permits
  • Require cumulative impact analysis
  • Started the process of requiring disclosure of all fracking chemicals as the first step towards banning certain uses

What these developments show is that real progress was achieved in 2020, and that more progress is possible in 2021. The rulemaking hearings of the more esoteric areas of COGCC are yet ongoing; as are the rulemakings of its allied organizations: the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment); the AQCC (Air Quality Control Commission), and the RAQC (Regional Air Quality Council)…the flurry of acronyms and organizations can be overwhelming. Is there a simpler way to think about this?

The answer is yes, there is a simpler way to understand what has happened; because what has happened is that the COGCC must now coordinate with the state agencies that oversee public health — a role which neither of them have had to do before in a coordinated way. In effect, the COGCC has been forced, as a result of SB-181, to step outside its traditional role of permitting and monitoring O&G well operations, to including the health and environmental impacts of those operations — at the very start of the well permitting process — which had never been required before. (As such, this is a groundbreaking direction of O&G regulation that has never been done at the state level before, of which Coloradoans can feel justifiably proud.)

However, due to the novelty of this new regulatory direction, there will be a necessary amount of effort devoted to developing these new interfaces between these regulatory agencies that have not had to integrate their operations before; it will not happen simply as result of passing a new law. Another step is required: although our legislators can take credit for the vision to get behind and pass SB-181, it will take many more hours of patient back-&-forth between these various regulatory agencies to work out these new protocols. But at least we can take comfort in the fact that they are now, by law, united in the common goal of making O&G operations safe to operate in Colorado, and sincerely including the impacts on the environment and the health of nearby communities.

As these developments play out in 2021, the Larimer Alliance is positioned as the only non-profit dedicated to monitoring them in Larimer County and communicating them to the public. Please consider helping us to carry on our mission in the coming year.

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