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Draft oil/gas rules frustrate citizen groups

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Colorado community organizations representing impacted residents around the state expressed disappointment and frustration in the newly released COGCC draft rule that allows large-scale oil and gas development in residential areas. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission released a draft rule yesterday outlining new regulations to implement the two recommendations from the 2014-2015 Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force.

"We are concerned that after several meetings between impacted citizens and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, that the administration has chosen largely to ignore the needs and concerns of Colorado communities," said Wendy Highby of Weld Air and Water from Greeley. "This rule seems designed to accommodate drilling in neighborhoods rather than protecting public health and welfare."

At several meetings with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, community groups expressed the need to prioritize public health and safety in siting oil and gas development facilities; a need for stronger definitions of residential areas that don't leave rural Coloradans to fend for themselves against the industry; for better transparency in the siting process, and they re-emphasized the Task Force call to move large oil and gas facilities as far away as possible from homes, neighborhoods and schools.

In September, these Colorado community organizations sent a letter to the COGCC expressing the need for basic provisions in the new rule that would prioritize protections for Coloradans. "We had hoped that, for once, the State of Colorado would strike a balance between the rights of ordinary citizens and the power of the oil and gas industry," said Natasha Leger of Citizens for a Healthy Community from Delta County. "These proposed rules do not advance protections for families -- instead, they continue to endorse placing large-scale oil and gas facilities on private property without the permission of the surface owner or the surrounding neighbors. Moreover, the COGCC continues to refuse allowing families to appeal to the COGCC when they are impacted by locating these facilities next to their homes or schools."

"These rules, as written, do not provide enough protections for Colorado families. I am afraid that once these rules are adopted, there will be more neighborhood drilling -- not less. This draft is not what was called for by the Oil and Gas Task Force," stated Sara Barwinski, who served on the Governor's Task Force for five months.

Representatives of Citizens for a Healthy Community, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, Western Colorado Congress, Weld Air and Water, and Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now met with the COGCC several times before submitting the following list of recommendations, none of which are reflected in the draft rules:

1. Define a large oil and gas facility using a matrix that uses proximity and scale in order to mitigate intensity.

2. All Colorado residents in close proximity to a proposed large oil and gas facility need to have access to siting tools and appropriate mitigation measures.

3. Close existing setback loopholes for using an existing surface use agreement or expanding an existing well into a "large oil and gas facility."

4. Prohibit the siting of Class II waste injection facilities near residential areas.

5. Use property line of schools as marker to measure distance between a school and a well or production facility.

6. Landowners adjacent to a proposed large oil and gas site should have standing to request a hearing before the COGCC.

7. Utilize "siting tools" to locate large oil and gas facilities away from residential areas when feasible.

8. Increased health and safety mitigation measures should be required at all large oil and gas facilities. Additional baseline mitigation measures at the state level for Large Scale Facilities should include new noise, odor, dust and safety protections.

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