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In today’s Denver Post, Mark Jaffe reports that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is creating two local government liaison positions. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association – the industry lobbying group – is also adding a community liaison position.

As a new drilling wave hits Colorado’s Front Range, local governments are working hard to get in front of drilling and have proper safeguards in place before it’s too late.

Unfortunately, local control is the last thing the state and the industry wants. COGA’s Tisha Schuller stated in the article that the “industry is engaging in a more meaningful way than it used to.”

This is actually a case of the oil and gas industry and the state dusting off a dirty old strategy and making it sound shiny and new and helpful.

In the early 1990s, La Plata County responded to its citizens getting overrun with drilling rigs and water contamination by developing oil and gas regulations. The state and the industry showed up in force to try to block the new rules claiming that the state’s oil and gas regulations worked just fine.

In the end, La Plata County did adopt strong protections. The industry succeeded in watering down the rules but it failed when it challenged La Plata County in court. The Supreme Court ruled that local governments have the authority to regulate the land use impacts of oil and gas development.

Longmont, Commerce City and other local governments are doing the right thing for their communities in trying to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Why the state is hiring staff to thwart local control rather than adding badly needed enforcement personnel is a big problem. In any case, Colorado needs to work hand-in-hand with local governments to put in place the best protections possible – before drilling occurs. Despite La Plata’s regulations, for many residents the regs were too little, too late. BP and other companies bought out many families whose homes became uninhabitable due to methane contamination from drilling activities.

La Plata County’s list of oil and gas impacts is long. It doesn’t have to be that way for other communities. Let’s not repeat this sad history.

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