Lots of Problems with Fox 31’s “Problem Solvers” Report on Colorado Oil and Natural Gas Development
A new report from Denver’s Fox 31 “Problem Solvers” taking aim at Colorado’s oil and natural gas regulations suffers from a few problems of its own. Mainly, it fails to report the whole story on the state’s oversight of energy development, while characterizing the “frustration” of a longtime activist with ties to national anti-fracking organizations as that of a retired homeowner.
So here are three tips for the “Problem Solvers” to keep in mind before they attempt to cover another oil and natural gas story in Colorado:
Tip #1: CDPHE is not the only agency that inspects oil and natural gas sites
The problem solvers chief complaint in the story seems to be their belief that oil and natural gas sites are not getting the attention they deserve from state inspectors. The Problem Solvers “launched a three-month investigation” that led them to speak with a state enforcement officer with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) about how-often well sites were being inspected. From the story:
“But it is what his partner Nicole Rowan said that surprised the Problem Solvers the most.
When asked if the agency is able to inspect every single company, Rowan said, “No, we don’t have the resources to inspect all of those.”
But that is only part of the story. In Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), is widely recognized as the chief regulatory agency charged with overseeing oil and natural gas development, and is also responsible for inspecting well sites. When asked during a recent interview about the number of inspections taking place, COGCC Director Matt Lepore described a very different scenario than what was reported by the Problem Solvers. The Colorado Independent reports:
“He said that the COGCC inspected 30,000 wells last year, and generally can inspect wells at least once every 15 months. “I am very comfortable with the number of enforcement and inspection staff that we have,” he said. “I don’t feel like there are dark things going unseen.” (emphasis added)
Tip #2: There is a lot more to Colorado’s oil and natural gas regulations than inspections of wells
It may also surprise the Problem Solvers’ viewers to learn that there is a lot more to Colorado’s oil and natural gas regulations than inspections from the CDPHE. In fact, the state’s regulatory environment has been in a near-constant state of comprehensive review for nearly a decade.
In fact, a network of state rules govern nearly every aspect of the oil and natural gas development process from the initial siting and permitting, to the final plugging and abandoning of a well. That is why many count Colorado’s regulatory framework for oil and natural gas development among the strongest and most protective rules in the nation.
But perhaps more importantly, as stated above, the COGCC is actually the state agency that is chiefly responsible for oil and natural gas development in the state. And while the CDPHE plays an important role, any story criticizing the current regulatory environment without a comment from COGCC simply seems incomplete.
The oil and gas industry isn’t perfect – no industry is – but it is safe and tightly regulated under an interlocking set of state and federal environmental laws and the regulations issued pursuant to those laws. There is always room for debate over the best ways to regulate one of the state’s mainstay industries, but news reports that leave the impression that this process is overseen by a small group of inspectors, are simply not telling the entire story.
Tip # 3: Viewers deserve to know they are hearing from an activist with an agenda
The story largely pivots on the words of Parachute, CO resident Bob Arrington, who the problem solvers say “moved there many years ago to retire.” But as Arrington tells the reporters:
“I would not recommend anyone move here,” Arrington said. “I wouldn’t move here again — not in a heartbeat.”
But the report fails to disclose is that Arrington has been keeping himself very busy as an anti-fracking activist. In fact, a simple search reveals that Arrington is affiliated with a number of anti-fracking organizations whose work is often-cited by groups like “Coloradans Against Fracking.”
Earlier this year, Arrington even teamed up with a large group of decidedly anti-fracking researchers as a co-author of a study pushing increased setback distances. And as EID reported, Arrington disclosed in the paper that he sits on the Board of Directors at the Western Colorado Congress (WCC). From the paper:
“He serves on the Board of Directors of Western Colorado Congress, a nonprofit alliance for community empowerment to protect and enhance quality of life in Western Colorado.”
While WCC may do all of those things, WCC also has a long history of opposing energy development. In September 2011, WCC, Food & Water Watch (F&WW) and more than 50 other activist groups “flooded White House phone lines” and “called on [President] Obama to ban fracking,” according to a press release from the activists.
But Arrington’s affiliation with a group like F&WW shows that he is likely interested in far more drastic measures than simply increasing inspections and fines. Because as EID has pointed out many times, F&WW’s agenda is a national ban on fracking, because the group believes that:
“Food & Water Watch maintains that the fracking process, from constructing well sites to managing toxic fracking waste, is too risky to be regulated. Regulations can never make fracking safe.”
Obviously Arrington is entitled to his opinion and his right to protest oil and natural gas development, but it seems like the Problem Solvers failed to either do their due-diligence on the bias of their primary source, or chose not to disclose to their viewers that they were hearing from a prominent activist.
But if activists like Arrington are behind this story, it is almost certain that the ban-fracking groups that he is affiliated with are not far behind him. And with their goal of banning oil and natural gas development, how can his complaints be credible? As we have seen many times, these groups aren’t looking for more inspections or increased fines, their goal is to ban fracking, and generating negative press coverage is one of the most commonly used tactics they use to pursue that goal.
The bottom line is that Colorado’s regulatory environment is far more comprehensive than what was reported on by Fox 31 Denver. Hopefully, future coverage from the Problem Solvers will provide the context these issues need as opposed to a narrative that was seemingly pushed solely by an anti-fracking activist.