Jan. 03–Anti-drilling forces who were dealt a blow at the ballot box in November are regrouping in earnest this week, hiring a well-connected player in Colorado political circles to lead the effort against an industry that is aggressively trying to tap more of the state’s reserves of fossil fuels.
And they aren’t waiting for the new governor to take the oath of office next week, firing off requests this week to Gov.-elect Jared Polis that urge him to exercise his authority as the state’s top executive to halt all new drilling in Colorado.
A slew of community groups from across the state, but mostly from the Front Range, will send Polis a letter Thursday asking him “to put on hold all pending and new permit applications along with approvals of all related infrastructure” for the next nine months.
In a parallel move, the organization behind the unsuccessful effort last fall to increase setbacks for new oil and gas operations will send its own request to Polis on Friday asking that he slap an indefinite moratorium on new drilling in Colorado while a comprehensive study is conducted to gauge the health impacts of drilling and fracking.
All of this is occurring as the state legislature gets ready to go to full Democratic control this week and activists concerned about how the state’s more than 50,000 wells might be affecting public health vow to push for stricter controls of an industry that has moved its rigs and tanks closer to ever-expanding Front Range neighborhoods.
Polis, who takes office Tuesday as Colorado’s next governor, declined to comment on either request Wednesday. A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman said he wasn’t clear on whether Polis could give such an order to the agency, saying the situation “has never been contemplated before.”
“We’re seeing an explosion of permits in the wake of (the failure of setbacks measure) Proposition 112, despite more than 1.1 million Coloradans supporting oil and gas reform with their yes vote on the measure,” said Anne Lee Foster, spokeswoman for pro-112 advocacy group Colorado Rising.
According to COGCC data, the number of drilling applications moving through the approvals process in November exceeded 6,200 — nearly three times the number of permits that were pending at the beginning of 2018. As a sign of just how heated the battle over energy extraction likely will become in 2019, Colorado Rising on Wednesday named outgoing state Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat, as its new executive director.
“This is a wake-up call to every elected official that they need to act to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens,” Salazar said in an interview with The Denver Post.
Salazar will speak at an anti-oil and gas rally at Civic Center park in Denver at noon Thursday before his own group holds a demonstration against the industry at the state Capitol on Friday morning.
The multibillion-dollar energy industry in Colorado was nonplussed by the dual attack Wednesday, with Colorado Oil and Gas Association head Dan Haley saying “calls for bans and open-ended moratoria have no basis in reality and no business in Colorado.”
“Coloradans are tired of these dramatics,” Haley said in a statement. “And the last thing we need in our current political climate is more shouting. Activists and out-of-state interests can rally outside the state Capitol, but the hardworking men and women in Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry are committed to going inside and engaging in a civil dialogue that benefits Coloradans.”
He cited the decision by the COGCC last month to increase the buffer between schools and oil and gas wells as a “level-headed” way to advance regulations and “a model for how we go forward.”
Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said “keep-it-in-the-ground activists” aim to “cost Colorado tens of millions of dollars in lost tax and royalty revenues with these proposals, along with hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
“This tired approach seeks to circumvent working with all stakeholders as we continue to use the highest standards and safety practices possible in providing Colorado and the rest of the country affordable and dependable energy produced here in Colorado,” she said.
Just how aggressive Polis will be in reining in the oil and gas industry is not clear. In an interview he gave to The Post after the Nov. 6 election, he said he wanted to make sure local communities “have seats at the table and that we have a stronger backstop for setbacks when there’s no surface use agreement in place.”
But Polis has been a bit of a mixed bag on energy regulations over the years, backing a measure in 2014 that would have increased setbacks to 2,000 feet but coming out against Proposition 112 last fall, which called for a 2,500-foot buffer between homes and new wells. Last summer, he was heckled by anti-drilling activists during a speech he gave at an oil and gas conference for what they claimed was an overly friendly stance toward the energy sector.
Neil Allaire, a Broomfield resident who belongs to Front Range Residents for Environment, Safety and Health, said he looks at Polis as an ally and more amenable to tighter regulations on oil and gas than outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper.
But he said putting pressure on the new governor won’t be the only tactic he and his allies employ in taking on the energy sector in the coming year. They also will work on persuading lawmakers in the Colorado General Assembly, which convenes for its new session Friday, to pass bills addressing the topic.
And they will eagerly await a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court in the so-called Martinez case, in which environmental activists are trying to force the COGCC to prioritize health and the environment when it comes to issuing permits to oil and gas companies.
“Everyone knows the oil and gas regulations in Colorado are not the best,” Allaire said.
(c)2019 The Denver Post
Visit The Denver Post at www.denverpost.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.