A turn to civil dis­obe­di­ence

Colorado oil-gas protesters used the strat­egy Mon­day against the COGCC.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Bruce Fin­ley

Colorado res­i­dents op­posed to oil and gas in­dus­try op­er­a­tions near peo­ple slammed state in­dus­try reg­u­la­tors Mon­day, de­mand­ing that they ac­cept a court rul­ing that says health and safety must be pro­tected be­fore drilling can be done.

They’re fu­ri­ous that drilling con­tin­ues in­side com­mu­ni­ties. And they’re frus­trated by rules that limit lo­cal govern­ment power over com­pa­nies and a new law that makes it tougher to get ini­tia­tives on the statewide bal­lot. Civil dis­obe­di­ence, they said, seems their only op­tion.

The roughly two dozen protesters at first vented their rage in tes­ti­mony at the Colorado Oil and Gas Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion’s reg­u­lar monthly meet­ing.

“I’m telling you guys, you aren’t aware how much anger there is in this state,” Den­ver res­i­dent Cleo Di­o­letis, 70, said. “There are peo­ple who want to sell their homes be­cause of frack­ing and they can’t. No­body will buy their homes. Thank you for let­ting me speak. But you peo­ple? You dis­gust me.”

Di­o­letis still fumed as com­mis­sion­ers called for a break.

When the com­mis­sion­ers re­turned to take up the busi­ness on their agenda, the protesters erupted, rais­ing signs and chant­ing: “No more drilling! No more per­mits! Stop the ap­peal!”

Colorado State Pa­trol troop­ers herded the ac­tivists out of the room. When they be­gan pound­ing on the door, the troop­ers sent them out of the build­ing.

There doesn’t seem to be an op­tion other than mak­ing a scene, ac­tivists said. Some were strug­gling with how best to as­sert com­mu­nity in­ter­ests in a way that could make a dif­fer­ence.

“We’re go­ing to have to change our strat­egy, be­cause this strat­egy isn’t work­ing,” Be The Change en­vi­ron­men­tal di­rec­tor Phil Doe said. He’s a for­mer U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency em­ployee. “Civil dis­obe­di­ence is right around the cor­ner. We have been af­ter this for six frick­ing years and noth­ing has changed.”

The na­tional group 350.org was in­volved in the com­mo­tion, sup­port­ing lo­cal com­mu­nity groups.

Oil and gas in­dus­try of­fi­cials and their at­tor­neys left the room for a breather as the com­mis­sion­ers sat and faced the dis­rup­tion. Af­ter the ruckus was over, COGCC di­rec­tor Matt Le­pore in­vited those who had busi­ness be­fore the com­mis­sion back to the room.

Anti-in­dus­try res­i­dents have dis­rupted hear­ings be­fore, but “noth­ing like this,” said com­mis­sioner Tommy Holton, who presided over the meet­ing.

Com­mis­sioner Bill Hawkins

said he and oth­ers on the panel are try­ing to be re­spon­sive to public con­cerns. “I feel like we need to take some of that into con­sid­er­a­tion when we make our de­ci­sions,” he said. “You have to be prac­ti­cal in how you han­dle some of the con­cerns.”

The main cause of out­rage was Colorado lead­ers’ de­ci­sion to fight the Colorado Court of Ap­peals’ March 23 rul­ing that says the en­vi­ron­ment and public health are pre­con­di­tions that must be met be­fore in­dus­try can ex­tract oil and gas.

State of­fi­cials di­rected the COGCC and at­tor­ney gen­eral to ap­peal that rul­ing to the state supreme court — de­spite the fa­tal ex­plo­sion that blew up a home in Fire­stone. That dis­as­ter, and sub­se­quent rev­e­la­tions about un­der­ground pipe­lines and flow­lines, has prompted con­sid­er­a­tion of whether com­pa­nies should be re­quired to map their lines and make that in­for­ma­tion avail­able to state reg­u­la­tors and the public.

COGCC staffers con­tin- ue to is­sue per­mits for oil and gas op­er­a­tions and to con­sider new projects, such as a pro­posal to drill more than 200 wells in Boul­der County.

The court case rose in 2013 when teenagers and at­tor­neys pro­posed that Colorado not is­sue any new per­mits for oil and gas drilling “un­less the best avail­able sci­ence demon­strates, and an in­de­pen­dent third-party or­ga­ni­za­tion con­firms, that drilling can oc­cur in a man­ner that does not cu­mu­la­tively, with other ac­tions, im­pair Colorado’s at­mos­phere, wa­ter, wildlife, and land re­sources, does not ad­versely im­pact hu­man health and does not con­trib­ute to climate change.”

The ap­peals court judges in­ter­preted the mis­sion of the COGCC to re­quire more than bal­anc­ing in­dus­try in­ter­ests with pro­tec­tion of peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment. The judges re­versed a lower court and el­e­vated pro­tec­tion of public health and the en­vi­ron­ment to “a con­di­tion that must be ful­filled” by the state be­fore oil and gas drilling can be done.

State law­mak­ers cre­ated the COGCC to reg­u­late oil and gas devel­op­ment, charg­ing it with fos­ter­ing “re­spon­si­ble, bal­anced” devel­op­ment, pro­duc­tion and use of oil and gas “in a man­ner con­sis­tent with pro­tec­tion of public health, safety, and wel­fare, in­clud­ing pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment and wildlife re­sources.”

COGCC of­fi­cials for more than a decade in­ter­preted those words to mean bal­anc­ing oil and gas in­dus­try in­ter­ests against public health, safety and wel­fare. This led to drilling more than 50,000 wells in the state, in­clud­ing thou­sands near peo­ple north of metro Den­ver and hun­dreds in­side mu­nic­i­pal lim­its in cities in­clud­ing Broom­field, Erie and Gree­ley.

But the judges de­ter­mined that the COGCC man­date “was not in­tended to re­quire that a bal­anc­ing test be ap­plied.

Rather, they wrote, the clear lan­guage of the statute “man­dates that the devel­op­ment of oil and gas in Colorado be reg­u­lated sub­ject to the pro­tec­tion of public health, safety and wel­fare, in­clud­ing pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment and wildlife re­sources.”

Protesters dis­rupted the Colorado Oil and Gas Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion meet­ing Mon­day be­fore they were es­corted out.

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