Environmental groups call for statewide oil, gas moratorium

DENVER — Dozens of people packed the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission hearing room Tuesday for the first meeting of the newly reconstituted regulatory body, and many of those attendees called for a statewide moratorium on new oil and gas drilling.

The COGCC, the makeup and mission of which was changed after the recent passage of oil and gas reform measure Senate Bill 181, is developing new rulemaking procedures for drilling permits as mandated by SB-181. Activists and environmental groups are calling for new drilling and approval of the state’s 6,000 pending drilling applications to be halted as the board works through that process, which is expected to be complete by next summer.

That request, however, seems unlikely to be granted.

Anticipating the message from many speakers present at Tuesday’s COGCC hearing in Denver, newly appointed COGCC director Jeff Robbins addressed the crowd in advance of the roughly two-hour-long public comment session. While Robbins welcomed public comment on any topic, his message was clear: Now is not the time to implement a statewide moratorium.

“Numerous members of the public have asked me and asked the commission to immediately ban or put into place a moratorium on any and all new permits until all of the rules have been adopted,” Robbins said. “That, I believe, is contrary to the intent of Senate Bill 181.”

That measure, which instituted a host of sweeping reforms for the industry, including shifting the COGCC’s mission away from fostering oil and gas production and toward regulating that production, “specifically stated that we should create objective criteria” to use as a guideline for evaluating permits during the rulemaking period, he said.

“That’s what I plan on doing, and that’s what [Gov. Jared Polis’] administration has suggested that we need to do,” Robbins said.

Robbins’ pre-hearing message to the meeting’s attendees did little to stifle pleas for a moratorium.

“Now that SB-181 has been signed into law, we call on you to carefully consider whether you are truly fulfilling your new mission or simply continuing to make decisions based on antiquated premises that are damaging Colorado’s health, safety and quality of life,” Micah Parkin, executive director of climate change and environmental protection advocacy group 350 Colorado, told the commissioners.

“Our children and future generations are counting on us to make the right decisions, and the COGCC must include migiting climate impacts part of its mission,” she said. “If it is even remotely possible that the current rules and regulations for oil and gas permitting are insufficient to protect public health, safety and welfare, then an immediate pause on permitting while more protective rules and regulations are developed is the only just and reasonable course of action.”

A moratorium during the rulemaking process “allows time for a thoughtful, thorough process that enables public participation,” Parkin said.

The Colorado Sierra Club expects the new commissioners “will usher in a new era in which the COGCC embraces and upholds SB-181, which was enacted because Coloradans want reform of oil and gas development in our state,” club conservation chairman Doug Henderson said.

“Reform means that the COGCC should no longer serve as handmaiden and rubber stamp for oil and gas,” Henderson said. “… Issuing permits during the rulemaking would make a sham out of the process and risk violating the law.”

The oil and gas industry also had its say during the COGCC hearing.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Dan Haley told the commission that “COGA and its members are prepared to be active participants in the rule-making process.”

The industry works every day “to ensure we can operate safely and responsibly in Colorado,” he said.

“The industry is a key part in our state’s economy. We recognize the importance of having a robust set of rules and regulations to ensure the state’s environment remains protected,” Haley said. “But it is also important to make Colorado a state where oil and gas companies want to do business and where the rules and regulations are stable and more predictable.”

Stability, he added, has been difficult to achieve in the aftermath of the passage of SB-181 “as concerns over permits continue to increase.”

Janet Rost, a veteran oil and gas industry landman, said she’s “watched [her] industry improve our drilling methods and start working with communities close to drilling.”

The companies she’s worked for over a four-decade career “all operate safely and efficiently and with respect to the people we drill around,” Rost said.

The industry strives to be a good neighbor, she said, and a drilling moratorium would hurt the economy and devastate families who rely on the industry for employment.

Luke Coats with industry advocacy group Energy Strong emphasized to the commission that “health, safety and the environment are very, very important to the oil and gas industry.”

Oil and gas operators are committed to finding ways “to make this industry better, provide a high quality of life and improve safety and the environment,” Coats said.

The COGCC will continue its rule-making process when the board next meets June 17 and 18.

DENVER — Dozens of people packed the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission hearing room Tuesday for the first meeting of the newly reconstituted regulatory body, and many of those attendees called for a statewide moratorium on new oil and gas drilling.

The COGCC, the makeup and mission of which was changed after the recent passage of oil and gas reform measure Senate Bill 181, is developing new rulemaking procedures for drilling permits as mandated by SB-181. Activists and environmental groups are calling for new drilling and approval of the state’s 6,000 pending drilling applications to be halted as the board works through that process, which is expected to be complete by next summer.

That request, however, seems unlikely to be granted.

Anticipating the message from many speakers present at Tuesday’s COGCC hearing in Denver, newly appointed COGCC director Jeff Robbins addressed the crowd in advance of the roughly two-hour-long public comment session. While Robbins welcomed public comment on any topic, his message was clear: Now is not the time to implement a statewide moratorium.

“Numerous members of the public have asked me and asked the commission to immediately ban or put into place a moratorium on any and all new permits until all of the rules have been adopted,” Robbins said. “That, I believe, is contrary to the intent of Senate Bill 181.”

That measure, which instituted a host of sweeping reforms for the industry, including shifting the COGCC’s mission away from…