Category Archives: BOCC Testimonies

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

Main Points of Consideration for Revised Larimer County O&G Regulations

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Important points of emphasis regarding Larimer County’s Oil and Gas regulations:

  • Leak detection and repair inspections and reports should be required monthly, to catch and fix problems reasonably quickly. Annual inspections, as required in the draft regulations, are of very limited use.
  • Air quality – Larimer County’s air quality is often poor, due in major part to oil and gas industry emissions, and improving air quality is an immediate priority for public health and quality of life:
    • All oil and gas sites should have continuous emissions monitoring and real-time reporting that informs about harmful emissions when they occur, not long after they occurred.
    • On Air Quality Alert days, operators should be required to significantly reduce emissions and dust, and to report on actions taken. This should not be voluntary based on operators’ convenience.
    • All venting and routine flaring should be prohibited. Venting and flaring is damaging to health, environment and climate, wasteful, and enables operators to escape paying taxes and royalties.
    • While our air remains in non-attainment of EPA ozone standards, there should be no net increase in oil and gas emissions; emissions from new oil and gas development need to be offset by reduced emissions at other oil and gas facilities within the non-attainment zone.
  • Setbacks and reverse setbacks need to truly protect people’s health and safety. Setbacks of 1,000 feet and less in the draft regulations would not protect public health safety, and against nuisance impacts from oil and gas operations. Reasonably protective setbacks and reverse setbacks include:
    • 2,500 feet from all occupied buildings, recreation areas and conservation areas, with variance allowable to 2,000 feet minimum.
    • 2,500 feet for schools, playgrounds, and facilities for older people, with no exceptions.
    • 1,000 feet from any properly plugged and abandoned oil & gas well.
  • To protect our water resources:
    • 1,000 feet buffer from rivers and streams, water facilities, and ditches.
    • 2,500 feet buffer for drinking water sources.
    • No oil & gas facilities within a 100-year floodplain.
    • No more Class II water disposal wells in the County.
  • Public Conservation Lands should be for conservation – and fully protected from surface use and inevitable degradation by oil and gas development. The draft regulations would allow surface access and use of County and municipal-owned conserved lands for oil and gas development.
  • Prior to initiation of oil and gas facility site development, all top soil will be removed to a safe location to be reapplied to the site during reclamation.
  • Financial Assurance is needed to protect governments and taxpayers from costs arising from oil and gas developments such as major accidents, emergency response, operator bankruptcy, and failure to clean up from oil and gas operations and properly plug old wells. Uncovered costs and liabilities will financially impact all County residents/taxpayers and local governments.
    • Operators must carry adequate insurance to cover all costs arising from their activities, operations, and facilities
    • Full cost bonding for all wells.
    • All conditions of approval survive a change of ownership.

A comprehensive detailing of our critiques and suggested changes to the draft regulations can be found in this letter to the County Commissioners and Planning Department staff: Larimer Alliance comments on public hearing draft Oil and Gas Regulations Revised

 

 

 

Comments by Doug Henderson to COGCC, June 16, 2021

I am Doug Henderson, a resident of Larimer County, speaking for the Larimer Alliance for Health Safety and Environment, a coalition of residents and organizations in Larimer County.

Larimer County’s air quality is terrible, due largely to oil and gas industry emissions.

The American Lung Association gives Larimer County a grade F for air quality. In 2019, Fort Collins was ranked #24 worst in ozone pollution of over 200 cities in the US. In 2020, Fort Collins ranked lower: #19 worst in the US.

The NCAR FRAPPÉ study found conclusively that oil & gas industry emissions are the major driver of unhealthy air quality in the northern Front Range including Larimer County. Improving our air quality depends on reducing emissions from oil and gas facilities.

We in Larimer also face the mega problem of climate change and all its ramifications. The impacts are not in some distant future, they are immediate and close to home. Last summer, the biggest wildfire in Colorado’s history was directly west of where I live near Ft Collins, wreaking both immediate and lasting impacts. It’s only mid-June now, but this week we are sweltering, and almost every day is an air alert, very bad air day.

What kind of canary in the coalmine does Colorado’s officialdom need to wake up, get serious, and take meaningful action to rapidly reduce harmful emissions and greenhouse gases such as methane?

It is time – past time – that COGCC takes serious action to stop harmful, often illegal, emissions from O&G facilities and sites.

These emissions happen at virtually all O&G facilities, causing damage to people’s health, ruining our air quality, and doing grave harm to our environment and climate. Colorado expects operators to self-report and be honest about emissions. But the real honest truth is that the industry lies about its emissions. And in spite of this open secret, there has been very little monitoring, investigation, and enforcement by state or local authorities.

One example here in Larimer County –

Investigators with the organization Earthworks recently documented emissions at an O&G facility just NE of Ft Collins, in Larimer County. The investigation was triggered by a report from a nearby local resident, who has experienced health problems for years from this facility – headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, possibly long-term damage.

The facility has been leaking harmful and illegal emissions for many years – harming local people, air quality and our environment. Although the operator was cited for violations a number of times over years, the leaks continued, and local residents suffered health effects. It took repeated imaging documentation by Earthworks and reports to the state in the first months of this year before the operator finally made repairs that stopped the leaks.

Without that, the facility would be leaking now, with the operator denying there was a problem, and authorities replying on self-reporting and trusting the operator to fix leaks.

Unfortunately this is typical O&G business as usual, how the industry has operated for decades.

COGCC needs to get serious about stopping harmful emissions.

Every O&G site needs monitoring adequate to identify harmful emissions and to report in real time, to be useful for addressing problems when they occur. Technology is readily available to do this. But of course the industry prefers monitoring and reporting that provides results weeks or months later, and is not public, because its useless for really ending leaks and holding polluters responsible.

Local residents and emergency responders have a right to know what is being emitted, available on a public website with alert options so that people can know when a dangerous emission occurs near them and take precautions.

The problem of emissions isn’t only with active wells and facilities it is also inactive wells, including properly plugged and abandoned wells and wells simply  abandoned.

Mechanical Integrity Tests are needed and necessary to ensure that inactive wells are not a danger to public health and safety, not harming the environment, and not causing climate damage, possibly huge damage.

Credible research points to idle inactive wells and abandoned wells as significant sources of methane emissions.

But without integrity tests of these wells, there is no way to ensure that they aren’t leaking methane and other harmful pollutants. And no way to know if some may be “super emitters” that are contributing disproportionately to climate change.

We ask COGCC to put more attention and effort to
• emissions monitoring and reporting,
• to enforcement that serves as effective deterrent,
• and to ensuring that mechanical integrity tests are conducted to
identify emissions and to stop them.

We encourage that this happens sooner rather than later – for protection of public health, safety and environment, and because rapid reduction of GHGs – sooner, not later – is crucial to maintaining a livable climate and planet.

Thank you for your attention to and action on rapid reduction of emissions.