A handful of Occupy Littleton folk attended the hearing of HB-1277, A Bill for an Act Strengthening Local Governments’ Regulation of Oil and Gas Operations, and, in Connection therewith, Strengthening Local Governments’ Zoning and Land Use Authority Over Oil and Gas Operations, on Monday afternoon. Bill’s sponsors are Senator Bob Bacon (District 14, Fort Collins) and Representative Matt Jones (District 12, Loveland). The House Local Government Committeeheld the hearing, in which both opponents and proponents of the bill, had an opportunity to speak.
Opponents of the Bill included, surprise, lobbyists for the oil and gas industry, lobbyists for royalty owners (people or corporations who have bought up the rights to minerals, gas and oil, etc, under the surface of the land), and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the State Regulatory Agency.
Supporters of the Bill included twenty-seven Colorado citizens, speaking for themselves and for various organizations that they represent.
Opposition has been building to oil and gas drilling, and more especially, to “fracking” operations, that have begun or are proposed, in the more urban areas around Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Greeley, Erie, Commerce City and Aurora, as well as to the south in Douglas and Elbert County.
The opponents of the Bill argued that giving local governments control over oil and gas operations in their cities and counties would result in a patchwork of regulations that would drive the industry to leave Colorado and drill elsewhere, resulting in job drain and lost tax revenue.
Those in favor of the Bill countered that Colorado has the oil and gas deposits in the rich Niobrara Shale formations and to gain access to these deposits, the industry is going to have to be located here. It’s not like they are running call centers that they can outsource to India when some local regulations upset them.
As for job creation, many testified that jobs are not given to local people but to a migrant band of oil workers that travels from site to site.
But the primary complaint of the Coloradans testifying involved the degradation of their neighborhood environment when these drill sites are dug. They are essentially heavy industry that, under current laws, cannot be relegated to areas zoned for heavy industry. They produce noise, dust, heavy truck traffic, and 24/7 bright lights.
And these are the visible, short term drawbacks. They also produce air pollution and, especially with fracking operations, long term water pollution. Fracking operations are notoriously heavy users of water, averaging from 1 million to 5 million gallons per well. Although the people testifying were cut off by the Committee Chair, when they mentioned these latter problems, since they supposedly had nothing to do with the Bill under consideration.
Those advocating for more local control told of their efforts to obtain help and redress from the COGCC, only to be ignored, told they (COGCC) could do nothing, or in some instances, threatened by lawyers from their own state regulators.
While Colorado has some of the more stringent oil and gas regulations in place, COCGG has only 17 inspectors to monitor over 34,000 active wells. When air, water and soil pollution or spills occur, they most often go undetected and uncorrected. Advocates of the Bill argue that moving the regulation down to the local level will empower the neighbors, who have a strong interest in insuring that the air they breathe and the water they drink is clean.
Well, long story short, the Local Government Committee, after hearing testimony for four hours, voted 6 to 4 to postpone the bill indefinitely. (For those of us who are not experts on Robert’s Rules:
The Purpose of this motion is not to postpone, but to reject, the main motion without incurring the risk of a direct vote on it, and it is made only by the enemies of the main motion when they are in doubt as to their being in the majority.)
You residents of Longmont and Greeley and Aurora and Lyons and Erie and Douglas and Elbert Counties, you may be the majority who demand clean air and water and the right to quiet enjoyment of their homes. But the Legislative Minions of the Oil and Gas Industry have spoken.
Suck it up, Coloradans!