When Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 181 in April, he said the measure would end the oil and gas war in Colorado.
But Tuesday's meeting of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission revealed that the war continues between oil and gas industry advocates and opponents.
That conflict -- which was waged at the COGCC meetings over the past several years, then moved to the state Capitol during the fight over SB 181 -- is now back at the COGCC, where the two sides squared off again Tuesday over health and safety issues and jobs.
The hearing drew dozens to the COGCC meeting room, with a line that extended out the door and down the hallway. Public comment stretched on for two hours.
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Even with a new mission for the COGCC set by SB 181 — to protect public health and safety first — public comments indicated some who oppose the oil and gas industry appear skeptical of the commission, and those who work in the industry fear their jobs will come to an end.
Polis last Friday appointed five new members to the nine-member COGCC.
Executive Director Jeff Robbins asked for patience while the commission figures out some of the changes.
"All of this is new," he said. "We're working hard to get this right."
But he also made it clear that a moratorium on new drilling permits — something requested by many of those who testified Tuesday — was not in the cards.
"That's contrary to the intent of Senate Bill 181," he told the audience.
The bill directs the commissioners to come up with objective criteria for reviewing future oil and gas operations, which is what they will continue to do in the weeks and months to come, he said.
The panel has a dozen total rulemaking hearings pending, with four in the next year. The first of those rulemaking hearings will be held on June 17.
The commission has a backlog of more than 2,000 requests for new permits and approved about 40 last week. That didn't sit well with industry opponents.
One was Wes Wilson, who said the commission needs to consider whether it can go forward with issuing new permits in the wake of the passage of SB 181.
He noted comments from industry supporters that the COGCC should continue to approve permits that are not "problematic."
"How can they not be problematic?" said Wilson. "We can't go forward with health violations."
Several attendees testified to migraines, nose bleeds and other health problems they claim come from living near oil and gas wells, including Lucy Molina of Commerce City, who called the industry practice of locating near low-income and minority communities "environmental racism."
"I'm fed up," she said.
Council member Steve Douglas of Commerce City, echoing the comments of several others, told the commission that their meetings should not be a platform for "us to speak and for you to ignore. ... When you have a new body, get to know what you're doing."
Otherwise, he warned, "you will have more people coming and a fight you don't want."
Among those calling for a moratorium, Abby Palte told the commission that the changes needed at the local government level aren't happening fast enough.
"Our local governments need time" to figure out what SB 181 means, and time to work with stakeholders on new regulations. The bill brought changes that local governments aren't prepared for, she said.
"What's the rush?" asked another attendee, Connie Beach. "This stuff has been in the ground for millions of years. It's not going anywhere."
Beach said she has faith the industry can find a way to get oil and gas out of the ground without polluting.
Take the time to get the rule-making right, she told commissioners. "If you make a bad rule now, we're stuck with it."
But industry representatives asked the commission to hold off on moratoriums and to work with them as they get into the rulemaking process.
Emily Kincaid owns Elevate Energy, which employs 50 people. All 50 were at work Tuesday and couldn't be on hand at the hearing to defend themselves, she said, adding that she fears everything she's put into her young business will go away if it doesn't make enough to survive.
"Oil and gas are a cornerstone of the Colorado economy," she said through tears. Kincaid pleaded with the commission to fully research the negative health impacts as they move into their new mission, and to use reputable studies.
"We don't want to hurt people," she said. "We care."
Janet Rost, who does land services for oil and gas, said she lost her contracting job last Friday in the industry in which she has worked for 40 years.
"I've watched my industry improve drilling methods, work with communities and improve the land after they left. ... I'm comfortable they operate safely and efficiently," she said.
The industry has given back to its communities and is proud of its efforts, Rost added.
"We are energy proud and proud of making the state better than we found it," she said. "If permitting and drilling is postponed for three months, we will lose our jobs."
She said still has at least 10 years to go before she can retire, and she also worries about jobs for her adult children, who all work in the oil and gas industry.
"Please don't pass a moratorium and put so many jobs on hold. We need to continue to drill" to maintain a great economy, she said.
The commission also reviewed SB 181 and what it means for the future. Rulemaking that sets up local government provisions and alternative site analysis should be underway by the fall, said Robbins.
Rulemaking on cumulative impacts and on public health, safety, welfare and the environment is set for spring of 2020.
The commission will also have to incorporate rules from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, although that timeline has not been set.