Impacted Community Members Fill COGCC Hearing and Refuse to Be Ignored 

On October 30, citizens lined the hallway on the 8th floor of the Chancery Building in Denver Most held speeches in their hands as a signup sheet was passed around for the public forum portion of the hearing of the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission); where commissioners were set to approve hundreds of new controversial wells in neighborhoods. Residents of Colorado had the opportunity to exercise their rights and speak up to the COGCC, to make their voices heard.

Simply beholding this sight made me think about how lucky we are as U.S. citizens to have a say in our government. However, as the hearing went on, I began to realize that the emotions felt by most of the speakers was that the system has failed. They may have been speaking, but no one was truly listening. So I began to question how great this system is, that ignores the complaints and cries of its citizens, in favor of corporate backing, and as always, money. 

The estimated time for the public portion of the hearing was somewhere around an hour, which proved to be grossly underestimated as the number of speakers drew it closer to four. Each individual was allotted three minutes to have their say. They spoke into a microphone offset to the left of a rectangle of long desks, at which sat the members and director of the COGCC.

Some speakers came equipped with medical masks and posters to drive their point home. This was contrasted with the dark suits and tired eyes of the COGCC members. However, whatever drowsiness had driven the members into complacency was shattered when Lauren Petrie took her place at the microphone and began her impassioned speech. She focused on how the COGCC was a failure and that they did not carry out their duty of advocating for public health and safety laid out in the Martinez case of 2014. Equipped with pictures of 50,000 various fracking sites, she threw them on the desk and urged them to look at the evidence and the consequences of their actions and to “apologize!”

Although faced with a literal wake up call, the members seemed to disregard her actions. The moderator stated, “This is getting out of hand,” and Lauren was asked to sit down. The same man spoke into his microphone apologizing to the next three speakers whose time she had theoretically run into. She hadn’t. However, the moderator seemed to take this opportunity to ingratiate himself to the public. As if to say Lauren was the issue with her raised voice and flinging of papers, and not the COGCC, the ones allowing for the construction of fracking wells and the destruction of the environment and public safety.

Luckily, no one held back. If anything, the emotional appeals grew stronger. A couple approached the microphone. The wife’s voice shook a little as she explained that they would both be speaking within those three minutes as her husband forgot to put both of their names on the list. They explained that just a few years ago they bought a house in Northern Colorado. Shortly after, a fracking well was constructed across the street from their home. Around the same time, their 29 year old daughter and her child moved in with them, and within a year they began to experience severe health issues. Through an assortment of doctors’ visits they came to find that their daughter had a type of blood cancer that is brought on by breathing in dangerous chemicals; chemicals often associated with fracking. As tears fell in the audience, they explained that their daughter passed away. They then left their house of three years with their granddaughter to escape the unsafe environment.

Through the tragic story the COGCC members sat there stoically, only showing compassion by resetting the clock to a full three minutes as the husband began to speak. As if to say, we are listening and we are present for your full story. However, this minor act of decency appeared trivial when contrasted with 350 Colorado, Julia William’s speech.   

In Williams’ hand was a stack of papers containing over 1,300 complaints from the year of 2017 to the COGCC about the negative effects of fracking. The committee had given one man three more minutes, but had completely ignored over 1,300 complaints and cries of entire communities. With her time, Williams read off complaints ranging from breathing problems, to noise pollution, to foul odors, to chemically polluted air. The COGCC members sat there silently. Some their eyes glazed over. Some of them had smirks on their face as if they had just finished thinking of every argument to invalidate these statements. To invalidate the communities’ suffering.

Moving forward the COGCC agreed to slow down the development of these wells and to take the public’s opinion into consideration. Whether or not this decision simply delays rather than dismantles the fracking project remains to be seen. However, one things is for sure, the public will not cease caring about their environment and their communities. They will continue to hold the COGCC to the standards laid out in the Martinez case, and advocate for public health and safety. Whatever decisions are made in the future, communities across Colorado are prepared to stand up for each other and to continue to put pressure on the COGCC to stop the development of wells across Colorado.

We plan to return to the COGCC hearing on December 11 & 12 ! Please join us there. 

-Anna Barnes, 350 Colorado Intern