We’re Stronger Together: Health and Wildlife Activists Ally for the Win

Oil rig in Weld County. Courtesy of CL Baker (CC BY-ND 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/coloradochris/22444880389/)
Oil rig in Weld County. Courtesy of CL Baker (CC BY-ND 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/coloradochris/22444880389/)

By: Paul Millhouser, Rocky Mountain Wild

In response to public pressure in the wake of fatalities arising from abandoned gas lines, the General Assembly passed and Governor Polis signed into law Senate Bill 181, changing the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to prioritize protecting public health and wildlife resources over oil and gas extraction. The COGCC is now required to “regulate the development and production of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner that protects public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.” The bill was signed on April 16, 2019, and the COGCC is now in the process of conducting rulemaking hearings to determine the final regulations to implement these changes.

On Thursday November 21st, I attended a COGCC hearing in Greeley, CO where rules concerning flowlines—the sort of line responsible for those fatalities—were being debated. Flowlines are relatively small lines that connect individual wells to gathering sites where the gas or oil can then be processed or transported. I had drafted proposed language regarding the best way to publicly disseminate information regarding flowline locations for Rocky Mountain Wild’s partner Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC). We were pushing to make complete and precise map data available to the public through a modern, user-friendly web interface, so that individual homeowners could determine if flowlines ran under or near their property. Natasha Léger of CHC addressed the COGCC, and I was there to answer any technical questions that might arise.

Representatives of the oil and gas industry sought to provide only very general information that could not be downloaded, because according to the federal government “new threats to the nation’s pipeline systems have evolved to include sabotage by environmental activists and cyber-attack or intrusion by nations” in the wake of September 11th and because the Transportation Security Administration has reported “that it expects pipeline companies to report approximately 32 ‘security incidents’ annually.” The League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC) pointed out that the TSA report was referring to 32 security incidents occurring worldwide, mostly in unstable nations. LOGIC also noted the pointlessness of concealing the location of small flowlines when the locations of refineries, major pipelines, etc. are well-known.

Luckily, the COGCC seemed to recognize that the industry’s justifications were disingenuous, and determined that the information should be made publicly available, although not at quite the level of detail or ease of access we would have preferred. The COGCC also imposed a requirement that abandoned flowlines would be safely removed and subjected to third party inspections, unless removal would itself create a threat to public health or wildlife resources. While the rules adopted are not perfect, Rocky Mountain Wild, CHC, and LOGIC ensured that industry voices were not the only ones heard in the process. The result is a win for both public safety and wildlife.

You can read about the hearing at https://www.denverpost.com/2019/11/21/colorado-adopts-rule-mapping-oil-gas-lines/ and at https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2019/11/22/flow-lines-oil-gas-cogcc-rules-maps/ 

Paul Millhouser

Paul Millhouser
Landscape Ecologist/GIS Specialist

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