Category Archives: CO state level politics

The story of how Boulder County succeeded in defeating Extraction Energy’s attempt at a forced pooling

This story below comes from John McDonaugh, whom I asked if I could publish his comments on this issue, which was announced in a press release by Boulder County on May 4, 2023, which can be read at:

Boulder County Declares Victory on Highly Contested Application to Drill County-Owned Minerals

This is why the Larimer Alliance continues to encourage Larimer County to take a similar tough stand with the O&G industry. We all know we must transition away from fossil fuels — the sooner the better — yet this industry continues to attempt to new drill new wells — even attempting to force Boulder County into a forced pooling. So here is the back story on how Boulder Country succeeded in this particular case. –Rick Casey


Yes, Boulder’s success demonstrates the power and necessity of hope and commitment. However, their victory in this hard-fought battle required more than that:  Boulder played smart. They played tough. They didn’t acquiesce to half-measures or settle for political green-washing or low-hanging fruit (battery lawn tool rebates, anyone?).  They utilized a multi-prong approach that combined education, direct action, political pressure, creative regulatory drafting, savvy legal maneuvering, and “bottom-line” awareness with a relentless, unwavering focus on their ultimate objective:  Prevent O&G development in Boulder County.  

Take a closer look at the sequence.  Extraction Energy initially (c. 2017) pressed for 32 O&G wells and ancillary facilities to be located on Boulder County land.  Boulder firmly opposed the project and supported the enactment of SB 19-181 which gave local governments broad authority to regulate O&G development. Once SB 19-181 became law, Boulder County promptly undertook drafting and enactment of well-crafted, extremely powerful, local O&G regs.  Once in place, those strong local O&G regs undercut Extraction’s legal position, and rendered the proposed in-County O&G development (and Extraction’s battle to approve it) infeasible and uneconomic.  

Extraction Energy then attempted to develop Boulder County’s O&G resources via directional drilling from the Blue Paintbrush pad located just on the Weld County side of the Weld/Boulder County line.  Extraction figured that since SB 19-181 only allowed local governments to regulate the surface impacts of O&G development (and Weld County was, as always, in favor of the development) they could avoid compliance with the Boulder County regs by moving the O&G surface facilities outside Bounder County’s jurisdiction.  However, regs aside, Extraction still needed to acquire the subsurface mineral rights below Boulder County land.  Once again, Boulder County and its residents held firm to their objective and overwhelmingly rejected Extraction’s mineral rights purchase offer.    

But Extraction Energy wasn’t finished.  They next went to the COGCC seeking a “Forced Pooling” order which would require Boulder County to allow Extraction to develop the minerals as part of Extraction’s broader reservoir development plan. Boulder County and its residents then fought Extraction’s Forced Pooling attempt on multiple fronts:  politically (via proposed anti-FP legislation), administratively, legally, and in the “court of public opinion”.  They ultimately prevailed (at least until another oil company effort comes along).  However, Boulder County leaders and residents now know they can — through focused diligence, savvy strategies, and hard work —prevail against O&G industry overreach.  Equally important, so do the oil companies…who will likely look elsewhere for “greener pastures” and “easier pickings” the next time around.  Why play the Kansas City Chiefs when you can play the Chicago Bears? 

Boulder County and its residents showed what it takes. Playing against oil companies and their political enablers is tough.  It’s often unpleasant.  It’s taxing on multiple personal and professional levels. The other side is smart, well-financed, well-connected, and extremely tenacious. They will press their objectives, irrespective of the broader public good, until they encounter firm and effective resistance. The knife goes in until it meets steel. That’s not “cynicism”, it’s reality.  

If we environmental advocates truly do our jobs, some folks — including some folks in power and, sadly, even some so-called “environmentalists” — won’t like us very much.  However, if we remain true to our course, play smart, build and leverage effective coalitions, and call out industry BS and political inaction when necessary, they will respect us and will fear what we may accomplish. And, to my mind, that’s far more important to our world, to our community, and to the most vulnerable among us. 

If a community and its leaders settle for empty promises, election-year greenwashing, unrelated low-hanging fruit (e.g. a few more bike racks, EV chargers, lawn tool rebates), and other placebos that won’t move the climate change, ozone, and toxic emissions needle, they will get exactly what they deserve.  The oil industry will see to that.  

Boulder County and its residents showed us the way. Let’s heed and learn from their example. 

Thanks for all you and LA have done and continue to do in our “neck of the woods” on this critical issue.  Keep up the good fight!  

—  John McDonagh

John is another Old Retired Guy who lives in Fort Collins (and a former state government enforcement attorney, oil industry regulator, oil industry senior counsel, and Federal agency senior environmental counsel). 

Remarks by Larimer Alliance representatives to the COGCC’s Cumulative Impact listening session on February 3

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held a virtual listening session on the need for Cumulative Impacts Rulemaking today. Many folks representing a range of environmental groups and communities affected by oil and gas operations in our state and region spoke to both the arcana of regulation and the real human effects they have experienced. We are happy to report that those speaking in favor of comprehensive rulemaking far outnumbered those “fourth and fifth generation” Coloradans speaking against any further constraint on the industry.

Three members of the Larimer Alliance presented the following statements either live in the session or by submitted comments:

From Doug Henderson:

Good afternoon Commissioners,

I am a Larimer County resident and member of the Larimer Alliance for
Health Safety and Environment, a coalition representing thousands of
people in this County.

Our air quality in Larimer County is terrible, due largely to oil and
gas emissions.

The American Lung Association gives our air quality a grade F. Three
years ago Fort Collins ranked #24 for worst ozone pollution in the US.
Now it is ranked #18 worst. Our air quality is getting worse, due
largely to oil and gas emissions.

You know that these emissions harm people’s health and the environment.
You know about the science confirming these impacts.

You know that fracking uses over 10 billion gallons of fresh water in
Colorado every year, turning it into toxic waste.

You know that impacts are local, regional, and global – causing a wide
range of harms from damaging prenatal health to exacerbating climate
change.

And you know that many impacts are cumulative.

SB181 requires the Commission to seriously consider cumulative impacts
in its decisions.  But so far, it has failed to do so, while ignoring
and understating harm to health, safety and welfare, and to our
environment and climate.

Several years ago I spoke to this Commission about the critical role of
people with authority to either stop harm, or to condone harm and to
thereby enable it.

We all are aware of tragedies where officials ignored or denied evidence
of wrongful conduct and harm when they could have acted to stop it. By
their own choice, each became an enabler of harm and each bore
responsibility for the damage done. We have seen it in churches and
schools, in policing and institutions of justice, and in agencies
responsible for natural resources.

Here in Colorado, for decades oil & gas operators have caused harm to
health, safety and the environment, with general impunity.

SB181 was intended as a turning point: for the COGCC to start protecting
public health, safety, welfare and the environment.

Commissioners, your legacy has yet to be fully written.

Will you enable harm from cumulative impacts to go on unabated?

Or will your legacy be protecting the public interest and welfare, and
our environment and climate?

Your legacy as this Board of Commissioners depends on what you, acting
in a majority, choose to do.

We want you to:

     • First, uphold the intent of SB181 regarding cumulative impacts.

     • Ensure that your cumulative impacts task force truly represents
impacted communities and incorporates the latest health and
environmental science.

     • Use EPA standards, without creating compliance loopholes.

     • Deny applications that will contribute to unhealthy pollution
levels, and until our air is no longer classified severe ozone
nonattainment.

     • Require operations to cease emitting ozone precursors on high
pollution days, with accurate monitoring and meaningful enforcement.

     • Penalize operators for inaccurate emissions projections and
inaccurate reporting.

     • Require operators to P&A old wells before permitting a new well.

     • Require fracking operations to use recycled water; and place a
limit and fee on use of fresh water.

Thank you for hearing us in Larimer County.

Respectfully,
Doug Henderson

From Ed Behan:

Good afternoon, commissioners. My name is Ed Behan. I am the Media and Outreach Liaison with the Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, & the Environment, and I reside in Fort Collins. The Larimer Alliance has advocated at both the local and state level for improved regulation of oil and gas operations in Colorado since the passage of Senate Bill 19-181. We were also one of a group of six environmental organizations that submitted a petition to you last August calling for rulemaking on the cumulative impacts of this industry on our state’s air quality.

There are others here who will address the whys and wherefores of why such rulemaking is necessary. From my own personal perspective, such impacts go beyond just air quality. I have concerns, among other things, about the ridiculously large amounts of water that unconventional oil and gas drilling, also known as fracking, takes out of our already critically drought-stricken drainages. Many others can detail with more eloquence than me the impacts on public health, impacts on wildlife habitats, impacts on marginalized communities, and even impacts on property values near such operations.

But what I want to address is the nature of the working group you proposed to establish last December to work on cumulative impact rulemaking. At the time, Director Robbins indicated he thought that work could be completed in the first quarter of 2023. One month has expired of that first quarter, so I ask: When will the group be set up, how will it be staffed, and do you honestly think it can complete the process in the remaining two months of this first quarter?

It is my understanding that these listening sessions are to help establish the parameters of such a working group, so I propose you move carefully in setting it up. I know the oil and gas industry, as a stakeholder, will have representation in such a body. You should also include representatives of local governments and communities, both rural and urban. Academic and professional experts should be empaneled who can address the health and environmental impacts that have been brought to your attention. And you should surely include representatives of environmental advocacy organizations. Any such group should also hold public hearings with opportunities for citizen comment, and I think it should also be given a good deal more time to effectively address the questions of what regulations are appropriate and what effective enforcement would look like.

Anything less than this would not be what I consider a transparent and good-faith effort. The people and environment of our beloved state deserve a sincere and comprehensive process to address this critical issue. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I hope you will give this serious consideration.

From Rick Casey:

Good afternoon commissioners and members of the CDPHE. I appreciate the opportunity to make this public comment.

I have been a teacher of environmental economics at Front Range Community since 2009, and have been the webmaster for the non-profit Larimer Alliance since it got started in 2019. I have resided in Colorado since 1981, and have lived in Fort Collins since 2018. I have been closely involved in the issue of fracking in Colorado since 2012, first in Lafayette and Boulder, and now in Fort Collins and Larimer county.

I would like to go on record at this meeting to state that the COGCC has been grossly negligent in failing to pursue the measurement and documentation of cumulative impacts as part of their duty to carry out the intent of SB-181 since it was passed into law in May 2019.

I believe the COGCC has been dragging its feet for too long on this vital issue, and you have lost much of any credibility with the broader public because of your years of delay. Quantifying the negative impacts to the health and environment from decades of O&G activity is the foremost need and intent of SB-181. More than anything else, the COGCC could help restore confidence of the public on this matter if they quickly pursue some programs to study the most intensely affected areas of O&G activity in the state and publish them in a transparent and prompt way.

Thank you.
Rick Casey

MY REMARKS AT FRACK OF THE STATE, FRACK OF THE CLIMATE EVENT ON BEHALF OF THE LARIMER ALLIANCE, JANUARY 17, 2023

Good morning, people. My name is Ed Behan and I am with the Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, & the Environment.

Yesterday there were many celebrations of the life and times of the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr, and his lifelong quest for social justice. And now here we are demanding environmental justice. This is sometimes dismissed as not being a related issue. However I don’t think I need to remind folks that the efforts of Cultivando, the community around the Bella Romero Academy, and tribal groups who resisted the Dakota Access Pipeline and other extractive incursions on native lands, only serve to demonstrate that the issues are intertwined and always have been.

Three years ago, with the passage of Senate Bill 19-181, this State made the remarkable first step of reordering the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to prioritize the protection of our communities’ health, our safety, and our environment.

The Larimer Alliance has advocated for improved local regulation under the mandate of that legislation, as well as lobbied at the State level during rulemaking processes.

We are all here to mark progress made. . . but also to mark that the first step taken has been a stumbling one at best. While new rules have been enacted, and new monitoring standards have been crafted, it is clear that everything from bureaucratic inertia to outright discouragement of effective enforcement has hindered our progress. This legislature has the opportunity and the duty to correct that and keep us moving forward.

Today, as in his inaugural speech last week, the governor is supposed to reaffirm his commitment to Colorado achieving the goal of having its energy needs met by 100 % renewable sources by 2040. But you all have seen the figures, you know the reality of the thousands of oil and gas permits that have been approved since he took office in 2019, and the hundreds more in the permitting pipeline. I’ll take a leap here, give Mr. Polis the benefit of the doubt, and assume we achieve the goal of Colorado’s energy needs being carbon free by the goal date. . . but where is all this oil and gas that is being developed going? I assure you, if it is not being burned here in Colorado, it is being burned somewhere else. And my friends. . . THAT AIN’T CARBON NEUTRAL!

WE ALL KNOW WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE, AND WE NEED TO HOLD OUR LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE TO SEE THAT IT HAPPENS. THANK YOU.

TALKING POINTS ON WHY THE PROPOSED FOCO O&G REGS ARE DEFICIENT

The following was developed by the Larimer Alliance Steering Committee in response to the draft O&G regs being considered by Fort Collins City Council.

The proposed regs on the city website can be found at: 

https://www.fcgov.com/cityclerk/codes.php

The Larimer Alliance has reviewed these in detail, which is provided in a separate document. What follows is a synopsis meant to assist the public in understanding why we believe the regulations are deficient in their current form, and why the public needs to weigh in with their comments about this as well: 

Point #1: Vast Expansion of Allowable O&G Operations and Facilities within City Limits:

The draft O&G regs specifically allows a wide range  O&G operations and facilities in industrial zones. This includes seismic exploration, drilling, fracking, production, processing facilities,  drilling waste management, and pipeline construction.

Point #2: O&G Pipelines Allowed in All Zoning Districts:  

The draft O&G regs specifically allow the construction and operation of O&G pipelines in any zoning district of the City – including single, multi, and high density residential neighborhoods.   

The regs provide only minimal neighborhood notice of planned pipeline projects and virtually no ability for residents to effectively contest the decision.  

Point #3: Pipeline Setbaks Inadequate to Protect Public Health & Safety: 

The draft O&G regs allow pipelines to be constructed with setbacks as little as 50 feet from homes and other occupied dwellings. There is no requirement that the pipelines be buried. Additionally: 

  • The setbacks are measured from the pipeline to the occupied dwelling’s wall — not to the homeowner’s property line.  
  • These setbacks for pipelines are much less than the current recommended standard of 2,000 feet. This is not acceptable, as pipelines can leak or rupture; and the impacts of toxic and combustible gas or oil leakage can have just as much adverse  impact as an O&G operation, which has a standard setback of 2,000 feet. 
  • The 2017 Firestone tragedy, where natural gas leaking from a severed Anadarko Petroleum pipeline led to the explosion of a nearby family residence killing two family members, vividly illustrates the risks inherent in inadequate pipeline setbacks. 
  • Pipelines, either buried or above ground, should have the same setback.

Point #4: Rush to Adoption Limits Public Awareness and Participation:  

The timetable for public input and discussion has been minimized to the point of near elimination.  Few members of the public are even aware of these critical regulations; and the City is attempting to rush through their adoption during the busy Holiday Season when residents’ attention is focused elsewhere:  

  • This rush to adopt seriously flawed regulations is unnecessary and inconsistent with open, participative government.  In a matter of this importance, the City should attempt to work in conjunction with its residents, not against them.  
  • Rushing adoption and limiting public participation also go against the spirit of SB 19–181, which emphasized local control over the Oil & Gas development and expressly prioritized the protection of public health, public safety and the environment. 

Point #5: The Regs Place Industry Interests Above Public Health, Public Safety, Community Livability and the Environment:  

The detailed wording of the draft O&G regulations reflects a consistent pro-industry perspective on multiple fronts.  Examples include:  limited opportunities for public notice and input in specific facility and pipeline siting and operational decision; the express allowance of pipelines in all zoned districts; the broad range of O&G operations and facilities to be allowed within industrial zones (many of which adjoin residential subdivisions and popular community gathering sites; and express provisions for altering zoning limitations to allow a wide range of these same O&G operations in other (non-industrial) zoned areas.   

  • Because the draft regs are so favorable to the O&G industry, the City’s adoption of them  without significant modification would be tantamount to allowing the industry to write its own playbook for expanding O&G development within Fort Collins.  
  • This goes entirely against the spirit of SB 19-181 – which sought to put an end to allowing the O&G industry to regulate itself, and sought to ensure that protection of public health, public safety, and the environment was accorded primary consideration in O&G development decisions.

All this goes directly against the spirit of SB-181, the new state law that changed the mission of the COGCC from fostering the industry to protecting the health and safety of people and the environment, AND empowering local governments to pass their own rules on how the O&G industry should be governed within their jurisdiction. As written, these proposed regulations diminish the ability of city government to regulate O&G operations, when they should be strengthening that ability. 

Very recently, in response to the strenuous objections raised by Larimer Alliance members and others, City staff have indicated that they will recommend changes to some, but not nearly all, of the regs’ most problematic provisions.  HOWEVER, we have yet to see any of these supposed changes in writing.  Moreover City Staff anticipates that any actual revised language won’t be made available until AFTER the City Council’s “First Reading” scheduled for Dec. 20, 2022. While we appreciate City Staff’s verbal commitment to address a small number of our concerns, no legitimate reason exists for rushing the regulation adoption forward through Council without giving the public a chance to review the actual regulatory language. 

Our Specific Recommendations:  

The Larimer Alliance believes that the entire draft regulation package evidences such a significant pro-industry slant and that the City’s adoption process, accomplished mainly behind closed doors thus far, has failed to seek and incorporate adequate public input.  Thus, our recommended course-of-action would be for the City to withdraw the current draft regulations and to initiate an open, inclusive pubic process that provides more than token consideration of public health, public safety, community livability, and the environment.  If this overall “re-think” is not achievable, the City should, at a minimum, make the following changes:  

  • Prohibit pipeline construction in all residential zones.
  • Revise the pipeline approval process to provide for full public notice, hearing, and Zoning Commission evaluation and approval – as opposed to the minimal Basic Development Review process provided in the draft regs. 
  • Limit the wide range of O&G operations the regs would allow in Industrial Zones – in particular, eliminate seismic operations, Exploration & Production waste management operations, and O&G storage tank facilities.  
  • Require continuous air emission monitoring for VOC and methane emissions at the facility fenceline; and leak detection for tanks and pipelines.  
  • Require disclosure of fracking/drilliing water supply sources and volumes; and disclosure of plans for drilling fluid and “produced water” treatment and disposal.
  • Require O&G operators to provide up-front financial assurance guarantees, such as bonding or reserved trust financial set-asides, to ensure that both operations and decommissioning activities are performed in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, and the environment.
  • Strengthen the regs’ project approval provisions to require the City to examine and address the cumulative impacts associated with any proposed O&G operation as part of the approval process. 
  • Allow additional time for more public comment, discussion and oversight of the passage of any new O&G regulations.