Oil and Gas Roundup
Never a dull moment for oil and gas

By Cathy Collentine
Colorado Beyond Natural Gas Rep

Oil & Gas Roundup small

There hasn't been a dull moment for oil and gas issues in Colorado so far in 2014. In Ft. Collins after the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued the city to revoke the five-year moratorium on fracking passed by voters last November, Sierra Club and its allies filed a motion to defend the moratorium. (See coverage of Sierra Club's Ft. Collins actions: Reporter Herald, Northern Colorado Public Radio, The Coloradoan, and E&E.)

At the end of February, a judge upheld Broomfield’s 20-vote win for a five-year moratorium, also passed last year, after the election was challenged by the oil and gas industry. A judge in nearby Loveland ruled that signatures for a two-year fracking moratorium were valid and that the ballot measure could move forward. While the ruling may yet be appealed to higher courts, we hope the voters in Loveland will be given the opportunity to join Longmont, Lafayette, Broomfield, Ft. Collins and Boulder in deciding for themselves whether to restrict or ban fracking in their community.

Colorado's Air Quality Control Commission finalized new air pollution rules for oil and gas emissions on Sunday, February 23. Thanks in part to the hard work of RMC Sierra Club members, more than 100 people representing all parts of the state, including students, brewers (they made a special beer for the occasion), health professionals, faith leaders, concerned parents and elected officials, attended the public comment day to speak out on the proposed rules.

Strong pollution safeguards

The vast majority of testimony supported strong pollution safeguards. (Things got a little heated when a Colorado state senator who is running for governor called environmentalists “flat earthers” for pushing strong air quality standards.) The final rules apply statewide and reduce ozone-inducing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. Also, for the first time anywhere, the new rules will reduce climate-altering methane emissions from oil and gas operations. This puts Colorado at the forefront of the debate over methane emissions.

Our state still allows hazardous drilling and fracking operations to occur within 500 feet of homes and possibly closer given the myriad of loopholes that apply, placing residents at risk of acute air pollution incidents from spills and explosions, as well as leaks that could go undetected for too long. In addition to pushing for greater minimum setback distances, we will continue to push for the use of the best available technology for both the prevention and detection of leaks, and for eliminating the exemption for downstream compressor stations which account for 15 percent of leaks nationally. (Read more about the AQCC rulemaking and final rules here.)

Given the ongoing industry challenges to fracking bans and moratoria duly voted on by citizens, and the general lack of residential and community protections, various community groups and organizations, including Local Control Colorado and Coloradans for Local Control, have drafted language for a set of statewide ballot initiatives designed to give communities local control over oil and gas development.

These draft measures are awaiting approval by the state to begin gathering the 86,000 valid signatures required to appear on the November ballot. Gov. John Hickenlooper and others had hoped that the stronger air quality standards would appease an ever-growing number of concerned citizens around oil and gas development, but the numbers of those motivated, involved citizens and communities tell a different story. There is much more work to be done to reign in out-of-control oil and gas drilling and protect our health, air, water and property values across the state. Sierra Club is committed for the long haul.

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