WHY THEY MATTER
INTRODUCTION: With the passage of SB-181 in April 2019, a united state government (meaning the House, Senate and Governor under the Democratic Party) set out to change how the oil and gas industry is regulated in Colorado. The passage of SB-181 was just the beginning, not an end; the real impact of SB-181 would not be felt until the rulemaking phase of the implementation of the law. This would not happen until a year later, after much preparation for that multi-day event, which have lasted from August 24 into October 2020. This page will document those rulemaking proceedings, as best we can, though they are deep, detailed and technical. But a foremost goal of the Larimer Alliance is to keep the public informed about this radical shift in O&G regulation, so that you can make more informed political choices and participate in this democratic process. The public comment period for the Rulemaking Hearings has passed, but it is still possible for new drilling applications to appear in Larimer County, and we hope to keep our base informed about these Rulemaking developments so that YOU, our members, can be prepared to make informed comments.
BACKGROUND: The new law mandated – explicitly – that environmental quality and the health of communities affected by oil and gas operations be given higher priority than “fostering the industry.”
This meant changing how the main regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), operates. To start with, SB-181 required the remaking of the composition of the ruling commissioners. Instead of a six member volunteer panel, selected by the governor from an array of state agencies and the industry, it is now composed of eight members (7 Commissioners + 1 Director), all professionally paid, headed by a Director and a Chair. All members are still appointed by the governor. You can read more about the background of the Commissioners here, where their backgrounds show a balance between industry, public health, land planning and environmental protection. Although three of the eight members do seem to have ties to industry, according to this page on the COGCC website, it also indicates that only one commissioner has extensive industry experience.
For a more detailed description of how SB-181 changed the COGCC, see this article written by a Denver law firm: Colorado’s Sweeping Oil and Gas Law: One Year Later (4/30/30).
The other dramatic change that SB-181 made was to give legal power to local authorities (meaning, in this case, county commissioners and city councils) to pass more stringent rules than those set by the COGCC on how to regulate O&G operations; it was a rather vague portion of the law. While this looked promising on paper, it would still require the support of county commissioners and city councils to implement. Given the complexity of evaluating the health and environmental impacts of O&G operations, and that county administrations have never been called on to do this before, the inclusion of the local control provision began to seem rather hollow, once experience revealed how it would play out. Larimer Alliance members can speak from experience of how we tried to persuade the three commissioners for Larimer County to adopt tighter controls on drilling applications and local regulations; the reactions of the commissioners followed politics — with the two Republican commissioners never supporting our recommendations, and the one Democratic commissioner who did. Thus, it seems apparent to get our county commissioners to change, we will need to change who is on the board of commissioners.
Having experienced directly how local control will depend on political change, the attention of the Alliance has now focused on the Rulemaking phase of the implementation of SB-181, and the state rules will change, which will set a floor below which local regulations will not be allowed.
THE PRESENT SETTING: Although the Rulemaking hearings are open to public observation via Zoom (which is a huge and unprecedented leap over past allowed public participation), it is still difficult for the lay public to follow and understand them, as they are necessarily in depth, heavy with technical jargon, and simply exhausting in their duration.
So it is with real gratitude that we can publish these daily summaries of the hearings, which are all written by Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson, the deputy director at LOGIC, the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradoans (www.coloradologic.org). They provide concise and informed commentary about the significance of the hearings day by day, which are a trustworthy overview of how the Rulemaking is going — which is far from a foregone conclusion on how the COGCC will finally decide. The O&G industry is heavily represented, and are arguing strenuously for their interpretation on how new rules should be set; but, historically unprecedented testimonies are also being heard from scientific and medical experts about the negative, and often life-altering, health effects that fracking has had on many people having to live near these operations for years.
The hearings were scheduled to conclude on Sept 11, 2020; as the hearings have played out, they have taken longer. Once concluded, the path forward may be more clear, based on how the Commissioners have been conducting themselves up to that point. We look forward to the remaining summaries from Mr. Forkes-Gudmunson:
LINKS TO THE DAILY SUMMARIES: