Mountain States

Colorado Enviros, Activists Split On Oil & Natural Gas Rulemaking Process

Mainstream environmental groups are working alongside Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry to turn the sweeping regulatory overhaul known as SB 181 into an effective, efficient workable law. But the extensive rulemaking process is being impeded by fringe “Keep It In the Ground” activists set on banning all oil and natural gas development in the state.

Those differences of opinion have been made crystal clear at the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) meetings, in local communities throughout the state, and via verbal barbs in the media.

Activists Groups Didn’t Support Passage of SB 181

When SB 181 was passed by a Democratic-controlled state legislature and signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in April, it had the support of Conservation Colorado and other mainstream environmental groups., Noticeably silent from the discussion were fringe KIITG activists who claimed the legislation didn’t go far enough. With the legislation becoming law, and all signs pointing to a willingness by multiple, diverse parties to work together to give clear direction to what it will entail, Polis declared the oil the gas wars were “over.”

But activist groups including Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, and Be the Change, who never supported the bill in the first place, are now using it as a mechanism to call for a statewide moratorium on all new oil and natural gas production until the rulemaking process concludes in likely another two years.

Those requests were soundly rejected by the COGCC when Director Jeff Robbins said that a moratorium was “contrary to the intent” of SB 181. However, local communities, newly empowered by the law, have enacted their own moratoria.

Activists Attack COGCC and Polis

Since the COGCC’s declaration that there would be no state moratorium, activist groups have only pushed harder, and have accused the COGCC of undermining the intent of the law.

Joe Salazar, the executive director of Colorado Rising told the Colorado Sun:

“This is an utter disappointment. Legislators were thoughtful in drafting Senate Bill 181, and for them to find out the COGCC has screwed it up as monumentally as it has is going to be a disappointment to them.”

Similarly, Joel Dyer, an editor at Boulder Weekly, wrote a scathing column directed at elected officials who he feels aren’t doing enough:

“As our governor knows all too well, this is not the first time he has declared a truce with the oil and gas industry on our behalf without our permission or support. … The oil and gas war may indeed be over for these professional compromisers, but it’s not because the war was won. It’s because they chose to surrender.”

Differences Emerge

During public hearings this week at the COGCC, representatives from Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, and Be the Change joined together and chose to ignore the narrow scope of the rulemaking process. Instead, they re-upped their previously-rejected calls for a statewide moratorium and issued boilerplate statements about climate change.

The scene was summed up by Commissioner Howard Boigan who twice asked these groups what they specifically wanted:

“The context of this specific rulemaking was, convened in accordance with the notice, the scoping description of what it was going to cover. I’m asking you what you want us to do specifically today in this rulemaking that is within the framework of what we can lawfully discuss and consider today.”

Dan Leftwich, an attorney representing the groups, did not come up with any specific recommendations, again falling back onto the old talking points of halting permits.

That stood in sharp contrast to Conservation Colorado and a number of other mainstream groups that were represented by attorney Matthew Sura, who gave detailed, substantive recommendations to the commission on the standards for administrative law judges and revised forced pooling rules.

Similarly, industry officials representing trade groups and operators gave precise feedback to the commission and stated a willingness to work together.

This has put Conservation Colorado and the industry in the same lane, where both are taking a practical approach to ensure the law protects public health and the environment while creating business certainty to keep the economy strong.

Collaboration to Make SB-181 Work

SB 181 is not the first time mainstream environmental groups and industry have worked together. Last December, they agreed on a new setback distance for operations around schools that was acceptable to all parties. Colorado Oil & Gas Association President Dan Haley said at the time:

“If we take the time to work on important and complex issues together, we can find constructive solutions.”

The collaboration between mainstream groups and industry is a good-faith attempt to make SB 181 an effective law and to avoid another ballot initiative like Prop 112 – an increased setback measure – that was rejected by voters in November 2018.

Meanwhile, the activist groups who supported Prop 112 and are attempting to halt new production may soon find themselves on the outside looking in, their statements ignored by regulators and mainstream business and political leaders who have begun to focus on constructive efforts to protect the environment and grow the economy.

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