Colorado becomes national leader in protecting health and safety from oil and gas drilling

Many who tirelessly sought changes owed a debt of gratitude

Fracking infrastructure is pictured through playground equipment at the Bella Romero Academy in Greeley on June 24, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Colorado Newsline)

For decades, Coloradans put forward a bold but simple proposition: When it comes to oil and gas drilling, we should value the public health, safety, and our environment above industry profits. This week — thanks to Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado legislative leaders, state regulators, local officials, environmental advocates, and everyday citizens — that vision became reality.

The reality is, oil and gas development in Colorado has evolved quickly in the past decade. New technologies have expanded operations into heavily populated areas, but our laws and regulations have not kept pace. Oil and gas is a dirty, dangerous business, and the industry’s Wild West ethos clashed with established and growing neighborhoods. Indigenous and Latinx Coloradans, as well as other Coloradans of color, were particularly hard hit.

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Worse yet, the state agency charged with regulating the oil and gas industry was directed by law to foster industry rather than protect public health.

On Monday, much of that changed.

With a unanimous vote, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved new rules to finally put public health, safety, and our environment first. These landmark rules will make a real difference in the lives of everyday Coloradans. They also prove once again environmental solutions can and must occur in energy-producing states like ours.

New oil and gas rules given final approval by Colorado regulators

In addition to redirecting the COGCC’s mission from “fostering” to “regulating” oil and gas development, the new rules:

  • Updated setbacks, which previously allowed operators to drill as close as 500 feet from our homes. At 2,000 feet, Colorado’s new standard makes it a model for the nation.
  • Defined and expanded protections for communities already experiencing disproportionate impacts from pollution.
  • Eliminated the wasteful and polluting practices of venting and flaring, which will clean up our air and makes Colorado just the second state in the nation to implement this commonsense policy.
  • Solidified a commitment to gather new information on the emissions of oil and gas drilling, which ensures that we will have the data we need to meet our statewide climate goals.
  • Took steps to conserve and protect our waters and wildlife that boost our outdoor recreation and safeguard our way of life.
  • Provided assurances that any new oil and gas drilling must be protective of our health and safety.

The fight to adopt these rules was not easy, and many of our fellow Coloradans were harmed by the way our rules were written before. They saw new oil and gas wells permitted in their backyards and too close to our clean water supplies. They experienced the hazards and poor health effects of living up and close to this heavy industrial development. They were brokenhearted when wells were placed next to the playgrounds where their kids played and attended school. But through it all, they advocated tirelessly, until drastic changes were made to prioritize the health and safety of Coloradans over industry profits.

We owe these Coloradans a debt of gratitude.

On behalf of Conservation Colorado’s 60,000 members, I want to thank Gov. Polis for his lasting leadership on this effort, along with COGCC leadership, commissioners and staff. They saw problems in our communities and worked to fix them, for the benefit of our health, safety, and environment.

Today is a day for celebration, but our work is not done. For the sake of our communities and wild places, climate action must continue. I look forward to working with Polis and the rest of our state’s leaders to set the precedent for climate leadership and ensure that, when it comes to oil and gas activities, health and safety always come first.

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