Written by: Giselle Herzfeld & Deborah McNamara

In April of this year, the Colorado General Assembly passed SB-181, ‘Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations,’ which makes protecting public health, safety and the environment the top priorities of the COGCC. In June, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) hosted a special SB 181 Rulemaking Hearing where community and environmental groups including 350 Colorado continued to urge the commission to enact a pause in issuing oil and gas permits until the new SB 181 rules are complete. 

350 Colorado continues to call for increased consideration of well density in neighborhoods, the need for increased community input from those directly affected by oil and gas operations, an inclusion of cumulative impacts on air quality and climate change, and for new regulations that include an examination of financial viability of proposed projects and whether bonding is sufficient to cover the full cost of oil and gas activities from inception to remediation. 350 Colorado has also joined other groups in calling out the current process of 500 series rulemaking, the first set of procedural rulemaking processes under the new SB 181 oil and gas law, as out of order, potentially illegal and not meeting the COGCC’s new mission post passage of SB19-181.

Since January of this year, 1,199 oil and gas permits have been approved, with over 600 of them approved since March 1st. Since the passage of SB-181, 87 permits have been approved. 

New commissioners were appointed by Governor Polis in May to meet requirements of SB 181, which reduces the mandated number of oil and gas industry commission members from three to one and increases representation from health and environmental professionals on the commission. In an effort led by 350 Colorado, over 1,100 Coloradans have submitted letters to the COGCC per the SB 181 Rulemaking process since last month, calling for a pause on permitting to allow time for a meaningful rulemaking process to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife before additional permits are arbitrarily allowed. Furthermore, over the past year alone, 350 Colorado has played a leading role in mobilizing hundreds of local residents in giving over 45 hours of testimony in support of greater protections from residential, industrial oil and gas operations at COGCC hearings and over 1,100 separate complaints were filed earlier in 2018. 

“Community groups that have been fighting for years to protect our health, safety, and the environment, including our global climate, from the dangers of fracking had high hopes with passage of SB19-181. Unfortunately, the Commission has so far refused to even pause permitting while promulgating new rules, despite receiving over 1,100 letters urging them to do so,” said Micah Parkin, Executive Director of 350 Colorado.  “Instead they seem more interested in expediting the permitting process by focusing first on the 500 series rather than doing the necessary research and rulemaking to ensure that Coloradans’ health and safety are protected. This is a disappointing blow, and the Commission should expect a growing public fury if they do not begin taking their new mission more seriously. Coloradans are counting on them.”

As a result of the recent passage of SB-19 181, counties have been granted new power to enact strong regulations and moratoria on oil and gas drilling. Several cities and counties have already begun instituting local moratoria to halt oil and gas development locally. If you are interested in learning more about how to institute a moratorium in your county, check out our new Empower Your Community Moratorium Toolkit, and please share with communities facing fracking threats at this time.

350 Colorado continues to work on fighting fracking, with a goal of stopping hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in Colorado and promoting opportunities to transition to renewable energy. In a recent strategy session, staff, team leaders and board discussed the strategic priorities of supporting communities in Colorado to pass bans, moratoria or greatly restrict fracking – under the new SB 181 rules. 350 Colorado will also continue to have a strong presence during the COGCC SB 181 rulemaking processes, calling for the strongest rules possible and calling for a climate plan to eliminate fracking within 10 years. We’re also kicking off a public education and awareness-raising campaign around the public health, safety, and the threat of climate change implicit in hydraulic fracturing. We’ll continue playing a lead role in developing and coordinating Colorado campaigns to protect communities from fracking, working closely with partner groups and frontlines communities. 

Here’s how you can take action: 

  1. Send a letter to the COGCC, calling for a pause in permitting during the SB 181 Rulemaking process. And – mark your calendar for the next COGCC hearing, Monday, July 31. Plan to attend and make public comment to help keep the pressure on! 
  2. Learn about and share the Empower Your Community Moratorium Toolkit – and help others know their rights under the new oil and gas law. 
  3. Write a Letter to the Editor about your concerns about fracking and why the COGCC should enact a pause in permits during the SB-181 Rulemaking process. Learn more and take action here. 


Link to 350 CO’s press release on COGCC hearing: https://350colorado.org/community-groups-call-on-cogcc-for-pause-in-oil-and-gas-permitting-during-sb-19-181-rulemaking-process-citing-rulemaking-as-hopelessly-out-of-sequence/