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.
Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, & the Environment