An oil pump jack is pictured east of Longmont, Colo. on June 24, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)
Responding to a petition from environmental groups, the agency overseeing oil and gas drilling in Colorado said on Friday that it will hold a series of meetings to receive input on the cumulative risks posed by the tens of thousands of active wells operated by drillers around the state.
Beginning Jan. 27, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hear from interested parties on how best to address the “cumulative impacts” that result from large-scale oil and gas production and may pose a variety of health and environmental risks in area’s like the northern Front Range.
”COGCC will use this input to formulate next steps in the stakeholder process to help develop recommendations for the Commission,” the agency said.
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Senate Bill 19-181, an overhaul of Colorado oil and gas law passed by Democrats in 2019, directed the COGCC to enact a sweeping set of rules aimed at better protecting health, safety and the environment. Key changes that resulted from the law included a new 2,000-foot buffer zone for new drilling sites and more authority for local governments to regulate and restrict industry operations.
The law also directed the COGCC — with little specificity — to “evaluate and address the potential cumulative impacts of oil and gas development.” Environmental activists say the agency hasn’t done enough to fulfill that mandate.
“In over three years since SB-181 passed into law, the commission has adopted rules to evaluate cumulative impacts, but enacted only a handful of rules to address them,” said representatives of 350 Colorado and WildEarth Guardians late last year, when they submitted a formal petition to the COGCC asking it to initiate a new rulemaking process on the issue. In addition to assessing “nuisance” impacts like noise and dust, environmental groups want the COGCC to scrutinize the industry’s contribution to air-quality problems like ozone pollution and its emission of climate-warming greenhouse gases.
Commissioners rejected that petition last month, but promised to begin a “stakeholder outreach” process instead. The agency’s staff released its first report evaluating the issue last year, acknowledging that “the quantity and quality of data and our understanding of cumulative impacts will evolve” over time. A second report is due by the end of February.
Members of the public can sign up to speak at one of four meetings held between Jan. 27 and Feb. 6, or submit comments through the COGCC’s website.
“We want to encourage anyone who would like a voice on this issue to provide input on how the COGCC should continue to evaluate and address cumulative impacts,” Brett Ackerman, one of the agency’s five commissioners, said in a statement. “We view these first four meetings as a scoping process during which stakeholders can identify any relevant issues that are within COGCC’s purview and mission, consistent with SB-181.”
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