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Coalition Calls Out Colorado Regulators for Ignoring Citizen Complaints Over Oil and Gas

October 21, 2020
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#JustTransition, #KeepItInTheGround

Denver—WildEarth Guardians today joined a coalition in calling out Colorado air quality regulators for turning a blind eye to citizen complaints and the oil and gas industry’s toxic air pollution.

“It’s clear the oil and gas industry is being given a free pass to pollute in Colorado, putting our climate, clean air, and communities at risk,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians Climate and Energy Program Director. “Governor Polis and his administration have to step it up if we have any chance of truly putting health, safety, and the environment first.”

Guardians today endorsed the release of a three-year investigation by the organization Earthworks. In their report, Loud and Clear: what public regulation complaints reveal about Colorado’s oversight of oil and gas pollution and whom it serves, the organization showed that state regulators fail to respond to citizen complaints and hold polluters accountable.

Since 2017, Earthworks made 28 trips to 15 Colorado counties to film oil and gas pollution — 300 visits to 200 wells, compressor stations, and processing plants — and filed 66 regulatory complaints with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. The complaints were supported by optical gas imaging video of otherwise invisible air pollution — methane and toxic volatile organic compounds such as benzene.

In a report released earlier this year, Earthworks found that although the Department of Public Health and Environment is charged with protecting the public from this air pollution, its complaint tracking system is so opaque that it is necessary to file parallel complaints with the somewhat more user-friendly Oil and Gas Commission system to get additional information regarding complaints.

The Loud and Clear investigation also found that Colorado’s agencies don’t have adequate resources to oversee the oil and gas industry. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has only 10 inspectors to oversee 28,433 permitted oil and gas operations (2,483 sites per inspector). These inspectors conduct 1,867 inspections annually, meaning that at least 65% of sites permitted by the agency go uninspected each year.

Since the passage of Senate Bill 19-181, which directs Colorado regulators to protect the public as a first consideration even if it means leaving oil and gas in the ground, the Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Quality Control Commission adopted a resolution examining options to improve its complaints process — with a report due in 2020. On October 22, the Director of the Air Pollution Control Division will report to the Commission on progress in making their oil and gas complaint system more transparent and publicly accessible.

Below are statements from Earthworks and other organizations:

“To fulfill Colorado’s promises to protect public health from oil and gas, the AQCC has to put the public first in responding to public complaints about pollution. To reach science-based targets necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to end oil and gas permitting altogether.” — Nathalie Eddy, Earthworks’ certified optical gas imaging thermographer, and Colorado Loud and Clear co-author.

“With SB18-181, the Colorado CDPHE – APCD should be focusing on protecting the public health and environment from oil and gas projects.  Presently, APCD is functioning in the reverse, as a protector of the industry from the public.  This change begins with the APCD being transparent with its data analysis for oil and gas project impacts and its compliance monitoring data.  As an organization of impacted residents and landowners living with the realities of oil and gas development,  Western Colorado Alliance is tired of being stonewalled on its multiple requests for data used by APCD to grant air permits and industry’s demonstrations of compliance.” — Rodger Steen, Chairman – Western Colorado Alliance Oil and Gas Committee

“It’s great that Earthworks is taking advantage of newly available technology to provide important insights into how oil and gas operations in Colorado are releasing greenhouse gases that are changing our climate for the worse. I look forward to their application of this technology soon to the North Fork valley. The knowledge that they are providing will help with the efforts to reduce our state’s impact on the climate.” — Dr. David W. Inouye, Board Chair, Citizens for a Healthy Community. 

“The Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety & the Environment is a coalition of Northern Colorado citizens and groups committed to protecting Larimer County from harm by oil and gas development.  We proudly endorse Earthworks’ CO Pollution Investigative Report because of its systematic, scientific and thorough analysis.  We implore all Colorado Regulatory Agencies to implement stricter regulations that protect all Coloradans health and safety, as well as the environment and wildlife!” — Tim Gosar, Larimer Alliance

For More Information

Other Endorsing Organizations

Fracking Colorado

Fracking rig in Broomfield, Colorado north of Denver.

Other Contact
Alan Septoff, (202) 888-7844, aseptoff@earthworks.org