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Colorado oil and gas roundup

By Lauren Swain
RMC Oil & Gas Campaign Communications Specialist

Not a day goes by without new surprises in the battle to protect people and places in  Colorado from the expansion of dangerous drilling and fracking practices.  The latest high-profile example of the lax enforcement of inadequate rules governing the industry in our state came as a well blowout caused a stream of 84,000 gallons of toxic fracking wastewater to spew uncontrolled over a field in Weld County, east of Fort Collins, for almost 30 hours. The company responsible had reported a dozen spills over the preceding 12 months, including a 2,880 gallon spill on January 22 of this year, but had not been fined since 2008.

Small wonder that on March 5 the Fort Collins City Council passed a resolution banning the use of fracking technology to mine for oil or gas within city limits.  Fort Collins is the second city in the state to ban fracking.  The Sierra Club is now supporting Longmont in defense of its local regulations and ban against state and industry lawsuits. (See related story in this newsletter.)

Fort Collins’ vote for the ban came less than a week after Governor Hickenlooper told a CBS correspondent that the State will likely sue any local government that prohibits fracking.  Hickenlooper’s threat followed his statement before the US Congress that he took a drink of fracking fluid at a meeting with industry leaders. Many feel that Hickenlooper was attempting to project the idea that fracking fluid is safe enough to drink, even though the fluid he tasted is an experimental product that is not in use by the industry.

Nonetheless, our Governor also gave the environmental community a pleasant surprise on March 6 when he expressed his desire to prevent drilling in the pristine Thompson Divide, a high-country area stretching south and west from Carbondale which contains important watersheds and wildlife habitat.  As reported in the Aspen Daily News, Hickenlooper went so far as to say that he would consider tapping into the state treasury to support the Thompson Divide Coalition’s offer to buy out the leases held by the energy company, SG Interests.  While we appreciate the Governor’s support for a buyout, we must recognize that many local governments, residents, and conservation groups including Sierra Club are currently calling on the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to allow SG Interest’s leases to expire in May as scheduled, and asking BLM not to grant the “suspension” of the lease deadline the company is requesting.  We hope that the Governor will take the lead in calling for expiration of the leases and add his voice in support of a proposal by Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett granting permanent federal protection to the area.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) is proposing to allow the oil and gas industry to radically increase its air pollution emissions, ostensibly in an effort to free up resources for other priorities, such as inspections. Our primary state environmental regulatory agency appears to be continuing its recent pattern of turning away from protection of air quality.   In October, 2012, the CDPHE announced it would not enforce some new EPA regulations on the oil and gas industry. Please keep your eye on your email inbox for an upcoming action alert on this topic.


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