March 6, 2008

Letter: Oil and Gas Needs to Shape Up

Our friend Lisa Bracken, a resident of Silt, Colorado who is living in the midst of the latest gas boom in Garfield County, passed along this letter to the oil and gas industry. We echo Lisa's sentiment here and know that there's many, many more of us that feel the same:

There has been a lot of press lately regarding the discontent of the oil and gas industry over the new rule making proceedings which have taken place over the last couple of months in Denver. Folks from the industry have complained about perceived alienation from what they have characterized as an opaque and exclusive process. Further, they have clearly stated that they are anxious about new regulation to be promulgated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as a result of recent legislation calling for balanced energy development with specific provisions protecting Colorado's environment and wildlife populations.

Please industry. Give me a break. I have had the unique privilege to attend, via teleconference, approximately half of these meetings. As a land and mineral owner in the midst of intense development, I'd like to remind industry and assure the public that, at least in my opinion, these meetings have provided an extraordinary degree of multi-lateral participation including noted points of often detailed concern. If the industry feels they have been in any way slighted, it is through their own failure to take advantage of the format provided to all stakeholders. With opportunities to submit written comment and the meeting rooms half to 2/3 full of industry heavies, like lawyers, technical experts, operational mangers, high level supervisors, and association representatives, I think they have actually taken strong advantage of the process. Throughout, industry has squawked about constitutional violations, jurisdictional limits to the COGCC's authority, what they have perceived as the potential "taking" of mineral owner's rights by prohibitive drilling, and misinterpreted legislative intent. With what amounts to legal body-checking at every conceivable conversational intersection, I am surprised at how well the Department of Wildlife, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have held up. Some legislators, however, seem to be decompressing. The organizational and financial prowess of the industry is ever evident and working hard to protect their business interests.

While industry has raised a valid point against duplicity and the inefficient, wasteful practice of reporting the same information to multiple agencies, over the years such fractured jurisdiction has singularly benefited the industry - by intentional design. Pipelines, drilling, spills -- all reporting on related field operations have been scattered hither and yon over numerous state and federal agencies, making it extremely difficult for any one agency (let alone an unsuspecting public) to get a handle on collective data, assess impacts and protect public health and safety. The COGCC is striving, to their credit, to broaden their perception of field operations by requesting an accounting of chemicals and facility equipment on site. This agency has the responsibility of clean up when facilities are abandoned (not an unheard of practice in the history of this industry). Since corporations no longer have to pay into the Superfund, that legislative safety net has been weakened. Further, loopholes in bankruptcy laws allow large-scale industrial polluters a valuable strategy to limit their environmental liability by potentially settling governmental claims for cents on the dollar. Though the COGCC knows how many wells are in existence, they currently have no way of knowing how many pads there may be. With pits and associated questionable chemical and cuttings waste on pad sites, the state is simply requesting an inventory. Industry: this is not punishment - it is prudence.

How is DOW faring under their new legislative mandate? Even though there are conceivably no critical habitat/wildlife conditions under which the DOW can prevent drilling if the industry wishes to pursue it, the industry is resisting even voluntary good practices and efforts at consultation regarding these issues. Again, the industry clearly wishes to trump and thereby prevent DOW from managing wildlife on private lands where drilling rights are involved. “The US Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that half of the species listed as federally endangered or threatened have eighty percent or more of their habitat on private lands.” Home Owners Associations, like Grass Mesa, should not have the final say in wildlife management - even if industry antes a million on the table.

What does this tell you about industry? It tells me that they are simply interested in pursuing mineral resource (and profit) at break-neck speed and crushing density, damning the consequences - which have already shown themselves to be complex, destructive and significant. In response to long overdue regulatory review, industry has said they might have to leave the state. This is like a big bully standing on someone's foot and saying "Hey, if you don't stop yelling in my face, I may have to step off of your foot."

Industry: the legislators aren't asking you to go away. The COGCC isn't asking you to go away. The people of Colorado aren't asking you to go away. We just want you to get off our foot. I think most people in industry would understand that. It's industry as a collective corporate empire, seeking strong profits within a framework of heretofore allowable abuse that cannot seem to understand the need to pursue their interest in a balanced manner which supports conservation. No one can expect an 'entity' driven by a moral philosophy of profit to understand the need to protect our water, air and land for ourselves, the next generation and the symbiotic life that shares our planet and sustains the ecological balance we rely upon.

I am grateful the legislature has finally responded proportionately (not emotionally) to industry's impact with new mandates to bring accountability to the process of energy development. Everyone in Colorado should be grateful. Industry, please stop railing against common-sense measures to bring balance to a grossly unbalanced situation - one that is costing the rest of us dearly every day of our lives. In other words, get off our foot.

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