For decades, fish and wildlife in Colorado were given only secondary consideration in the oil and gas permitting process, which was designed to “foster” the development of the industry. This system bolstered a small subset of our economy — according to Common Cause fewer than 30,000 jobs in Colorado are directly tied to oil and gas development — while putting our environment, health, economy and way of life at risk.
That changed last month when the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) implemented new rules to regulate the industry. These rules are meant to protect public health, the environment and wildlife, while still allowing for resource development. The COGCC based these rules on data, scientific studies, and personal testimony from Coloradans across the state, including experts who have observed wildlife and fish populations for decades.
To demonstrate the impact of these new rules Rocky Mountain Wild, the nonprofit where I work, has developed maps that show in detail the changes that have taken effect under the new COGCC rules. These maps show how over 12.7 million acres of land have received increased protection, and over 5.5 million acres have been placed off limits to oil and gas development. These protected areas provide important habitat for our wildlife, as well as outdoor opportunities for recreators, hunters, anglers, outfitters and others.
Colorado waterways, for example, make up just 1% of our landscape, but they support 80% of all wildlife species at some stage in their life cycle. They also protect our clean water supplies, shield us against floods, and provide for multiple types of outdoor recreation. Our maps illustrate the impact the new rules have on our waterways — and how they were vulnerable prior to the COGCC ruling. Other areas that are protected include wildlife migration corridors, breeding grounds, and winter feeding areas.
Balancing resource development with conservation will always be a challenge in our state. There are certainly those who will say these rules go too far, and others who will just as vehemently argue that they don’t go far enough. But at least for now, the value of our wildlife and wild lands have been recognized and included in the oil and gas development process.