The drilling industry’s newest bill in the Colorado legislature, HB 1172 (which died yesterday in first committee), seems to be just the sort of bill that we would have supported. And if it were put into law and executed, without prejudice, we would have supported it. However, the enforcer of this bill is the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). While the commission has new members and a new mandate, we re worried the fox is still guarding the hen house.
In a nutshell, HB 1172 would have required —
An annual report by the COGCC on the number and type of complaints received by the agency. Specifically, the report would identify
- the overall number of complaints,
- complaints related to water quality issues,
- complaints associated with oil and gas operations, and
- complaints not attributed to oil and gas operations.
These complaints are not limited to hydraulic fracturing but to the broad range of spills and contamination incidents reported in Colorado.
- The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) and the COGCC to evaluate the EPA hydraulic fracturing study when it is completed (likely in 2012) to see if there is sufficient evidence of risk posed by “fracking” to surface or ground water – from either normal or 'abnormal' operations – to justify additional expenditures by Colorado for additional monitoring or corrective actions.
But we still have the old problem of the fox guarding the hen house.
While we are pleased that the COGCC has adopted new rules and regulations we are (to combine metaphors!) very concerned that this bill is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When residents call with complaints of contaminated water wells near drilling and fracturing operations, the COGCC is quick to blame residents for being poor water well managers rather than conduct thorough investigations.
To quote a former President who would have been 100 this past week: “trust but verify.” Except that the COGCC, even the new COGCC, has yet to earn our trust.
As a result we believe that, rather than revealing the breadth of the problem of irresponsible drilling without a much stricter definition of issues this bill risks underreporting its severity. Among the issues that need careful defining so as to ensure the interests of average Coloradans are protected:
- How do we know when a complaint is associated (or not) with oil & gas operations?
- What sort of investigation must occur to make that kind of determination?
- Are all complaints made available to the public?
First and foremost, we need an independent detailed baseline study of water quality in order to be able to measure possible pollution from drilling.
Regarding the COGCC evaluation of the EPA hydraulic fracturing study, it is interesting that industry now wants a chance for the state to rebut this study. Industry didn't want the state to rebut the EPA when Vice President Cheney strong-armed EPA's 2004 hydraulic fracturing study. A study that ignored issue experts and science to the point that it inspired an internal revolt.
This EPA study appears as if it will rigorously, independently, and transparently examine the issue with ample opportunity for public review and input. That industry wants COGCC to review this EPA study, when it didn t the 2004 iteration, speaks volumes to our concerns about whether this bill is in the public interest.
The EPA's fracking study has captured industry's attention and HB 1172 is an attempt to sidestep federal oversight. We are pleased the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted down this bill.