Extinction Rebellion and other environmental activists upped the pressure on the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission today. There was factual information and heartbreaking stories shared during the public comments, as well as disruptions and chorused echoes. At the end of comments, banners were unfurled. 

350 Colorado’s Executive Director offered public comment during the July 31st Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Hearing in Denver; Public comment lasted over three hours, with many individuals and environmental groups upping the pressure on the COGCC, calling for an end to business as usual, a pause in permits and meaningful solutions to the climate crisis. Below follows 350 Colorado’s statement. 

Hello, I’m Micah Parkin, Executive Director of 350 Colorado, and I’m here today to speak on behalf of our 16,500+ members statewide who are deeply concerned about the impact of oil and gas development on our communities’ health, safety, welfare, wildlife and the environment, including the global climate upon which we all depend. 

Now that SB19-181 is the law of the land, the COGCC has been tasked with regulating oil and gas fracking in such as way as to protect public health and safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife. We call on you to carefully consider whether you are truly fulfilling your new mission, or are you continuing to make decisions based on antiquated premises that are damaging Coloradans’ health, safety and quality of life? 

The law has tasked you with regulating in such as way as to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife. If the COGCC has not yet completed an in-depth assessment of the large body of public health research on the impacts of oil and gas fracking on our communities yet, how can you continue to permit fracking without potentially putting the public in jeopardy? You are no longer tasked with fostering the fossil fuel industry – you no longer have to do a ‘balancing act’ of protecting the public while promoting fossil fuel development. On the contrary, you are only tasked with insuring that the public is protected. 

Continuing to issue permits before you have assessed the best available scientific research, and made rules based upon that science, is irresponsible and inconsistent with your new mission to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife.   

If you have not yet studied the research on safe distances between fracking and our children’s homes and schools – distances that do not greatly increase their risk of being born with congenital heart defects or to develop leukemia, and you continue permitting oil and gas fracking, you are acting negligently and unlawfully. 

Likewise, continuing to permit additional fracking wells that further increase the emissions of ozone-forming pollution to the air we all have to breath, which is already “F” grade air quality according to the American Lung Association and in non-attainment according to the EPA, causes more children to develop asthma and more people to suffer and die from respiratory and cardiovascular problems. This is inconsistent with the COGCC’s new mission to protect public health and safety. It is negligent and unlawful.

Continuing to permit additional fracking wells, which are contributing significantly to global methane spikes according to researchers from Harvard and NOAA and other greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the International Panel on Climate Change has told us we must phase off fossil fuels, largely in the next decade, is also incredibly irresponsible and inconsistent with the COGCC’s new mission to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife, and it is also inconsistent with HB1261, which calls for our state to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Continuing to permit additional fracking wells before you have increased bonding and assessed the financial well-being of the fracking industry, which has in aggregate never generated even 1 year of positive cash flow in the US and is over $250B in debt, is leaving our communities and our state saddled with potentially billions of dollars in clean up of orphaned and abandoned wells when investors finally wise up and this industry implodes.

Whether or not Gov. Polis or sponsors of SB 181 tell you that they think you should or should not place a time out on fracking is irrelevant. The law of the land and your responsibility as Commissioners to fulfill your mission to protect public health and safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife compel you to first stop all permitting of oil and gas fracking until you have done your due diligence and studied the research on what precautions a responsible regulator must put in place in terms of rulemaking in order to be certain that any fracking permitted in Colorado is done in such as way as to protect public health, safety, the environment and wildlife – in such as way as to be certain that no child gets leukemia from benzene exposure, that no one else has to die from a severe asthma attack or from lung cancer, or in fires, floods or other climate disasters due to the cumulative emissions from fracking wells that you permit. The decisions you are making right now are truly life or death for thousands of Coloradans. They cannot be made lightly. Are you acting with integrity? Responsibly? Lawfully? Please do, and be willing to speak up and “rock the boat” if you must. Millions of Coloradans – current and future – are counting on you.

Here are the facts:  

  • Most of Colorado’s Front Range has F-rated air quality, according to the American Lung Association. 
  • Denver’s air quality was recently reported to be 3x worse than that of Beijing’s and 30-55% of VOCs and ozone are attributable to oil and gas operations. 
  • We’re now rated 44th out of 50 states for air and water quality in recent EPA rankings. 
  • There have been well over 2,000 complaints in the last 4 years to the COGCC from Coloradans living near fracking about it fouling their air, land, water and deteriorating their health, home values and quality of life. 
  • More than 1,400 peer-reviewed studies have been published about hydraulic fracturing showing harm, including water contamination, significant air pollutant emissions; and risks to human health.* After releasing the most recent “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking”, the Physicians for Social Responsibility has called for a ban on fracking, concluding that “There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly and without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends.”(1) 
  • Grave risks clearly linked to the toxic emissions from fracking include cancer, respiratory problems, endocrine disruption, low birth weight babies, birth defects, high infant mortality and more. 
  • There have been at least 15 oil and gas related explosions since the deadly Firestone home explosion, several of which have killed or severely burned workers and residents.
  • Oil and gas development is contributing heavily to the global climate crisis through methane leaks that have shot up during the last decade, since the start of the fracking boom, and through the continued development of fossil fuels at a time that the 2018 report of the International Panel on Climate Change has told us we must shift rapidly off fossil fuels – largely in the next 11 years – if we are to stay below a 1.5 degree C temperature rise and avert the most dire climate projections that would subject hundreds of millions of people to severe poverty or premature death. 
  • Many Coloradans are already suffering from climate impacts such as more devastating wildfires, droughts, floods, pine beetle infestation of forests, damaging impacts to agriculture, winter sports and other important parts of our state’s economy. 

Our children and future generations are counting on us to make the right decisions today. The COGCC must include mitigating climate impacts as part of its mission to regulate in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife. And if it is even remotely possible that current rules and regulations for oil and gas permitting are insufficient to fully protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife, then an immediate pause on permitting while more protective rules and regulations are developed is the only just and reasonable course of action. 

Therefore, we call for an immediate halt to all permitting during the rulemaking process. Colorado communities deserve full due process and a halt to permitting to allow time for a thoughtful, thorough process that enables public participation in rulemaking at the state and local levels and accomplishes the intention of SB19-181.

Second, with regard to adopting protective rulemaking under SB19-181, we ask the COGCC to ensure the following: 

1 – In light of public health impacts and the global climate crisis, we believe a ban on fracking is warranted. As you probably know, 3 other states and several countries around the world have followed the precautionary principle and banned fracking based on a very worrying, growing body of public health research that indicates the practice is not safe – that it is highly damaging to air and water quality, public health, safety and the global climate. At a minimum, we urge the Commission to begin greatly restricting and, within the next decade, eliminating oil and gas development to support the necessary transition off fossil fuels. Take responsible action to help achieve Governor Polis’ 100% renewable energy by 2040 goal as well as the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Goals in HB 19-1261. 

2 – Use the precautionary principle: if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain, the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety, and the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it.

3 – Therefore, oil and gas drilling and operations should not be allowed in or near the places people live, work or play until and unless credible public health studies prove that doing so does not increase the risk of harm.

4 – At a minimum, the distance between oil and gas operations and homes, schools and other areas people occupy must be increased to 2500′ or greater, in line with public health research that indicates unacceptable risks to public health and safety at closer proximities. 

5 – Oppose permits for additional wells near populations where a high density of wells already exist, until it can be proven that these populations are not at increased risk from the cumulative impacts of concentrated toxic emission exposures.

6- Considering the vast number of fracking companies operating on junk debt or going bankrupt and leaving communities to clean up their mess, companies proposing projects must be required to prove financial viability, and bonding should be increased to $250K per well, with no per-company cap, to go into a fund for communities to cleanup and maintain well sites if necessary. 

7 – Prioritize and honor community input near permit sites, including community groups, homeowners associations, environmental groups, and local governments and agencies. Communities should have full authority to enhance regulations or adopt local bans if they do not wish to have oil and gas operations in their communities.  

8 – Prioritize protection of water sources near operations and require strategies to eliminate the waste of enormous volumes of precious freshwater currently used in hydraulic fracturing. 

9 – Eliminate “forced pooling” – no one should have fracking forced upon them unwillingly.

10 – End exemptions from setbacks and other rules for re-entry of old wells and eliminate the loophole allowing uncontrolled emissions for 90 days.  

Thank you for prioritizing public health, safety and the environment in all future rulemaking and taking action to address widespread public concerns. 

(* Fracking Science Compendium, Public Health Professionals of NY)