DENVER, CO — Today seven conservation groups filed papers in state court seeking to defend the State’s decision last December requiring oil and gas companies to make significant emission reductions, including strengthened protections from drilling near neighborhoods, schools, and places where people recreate. Despite strong public support for the protections, 10 Colorado counties with active oil and gas drilling are seeking to set them aside. The rules are the State’s first step to implement landmark legislation in Senate Bill 19-181, which requires emissions from oil and gas operations to be “minimized.”
Earthworks, Sierra Club, Citizens for Healthy Communities, and San Juan Citizens Alliance all represented by Earthjustice, and Western Colorado Alliance, LOGIC (League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans), and Conservation Colorado represented by Matt Sura together filed papers in district court in Denver today seeking to intervene to defend the new rules.
“For years residents of Colorado have long been calling for the State to protect families from toxic oil and gas emissions in their neighborhoods, and the State finally came through,” said Marta Darby, Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “We will not stand by idly while these Counties waste taxpayer dollars filing lawsuits that go against the will of the people in an attempt to bolster the marginal profits of the fossil fuel industry.”
“It is beyond the pale for a few counties to try to roll-back necessary health protections for all Coloradans when just last fall Colorado regulators finally confirmed what communities, Earthworks’ field staff, and scientists have asserted for years, that oil and gas production near homes, schools and public activity areas puts human health at risk,” said Nathalie Eddy, Colorado and New Mexico Field Advocate at Earthworks. “The people of Colorado deserve better than to be put second priority behind the interests of oil and gas companies.”
“The North Fork Valley is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in the state and a rare and irreplaceable ecosystem. Our future is directly tied to clean air and a stable climate,” said Natasha Léger, Executive Director, Citizens for a Healthy Community. “The idea that state regulations protecting Coloradans should apply differently on the Western Slope because our air quality is better than that on the Front Range is short-sighted and irresponsible.”
“The Four Corners is one of the nation’s methane hotspots because of pollution from thousands of gas wells,” said Mark Pearson, Executive Director of San Juan Citizens Alliance in Durango. “We know that methane and volatile organic compounds compromise people’s health, and all residents across Colorado deserve the same level of protections against oil and gas pollution.”
“As Colorado grapples with a devastating respiratory health crisis, moving forward with pollution standards is of the utmost importance to both our public health and our economy,” said Emily Gedeon, Acting Chapter Director of the Colorado Sierra Club. “Last fall, the State of Colorado wisely built commonsense protections from ozone-forming pollutants like methane that come from oil and gas activity across our state. We will push back on any misguided efforts to roll back the state’s standards.”
The oil and gas sector emits air toxics like benzene and formaldehyde that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. A recent study from the Colorado School of Public Health shows people living close to oil and gas facilities are most at risk.
The oil and gas industry is also one of the biggest methane emitters in Colorado. Methane is a powerful climate change pollutant that has 87 times more heat trapping power than carbon dioxide over the short term.
In 2019, the Colorado legislature adopted a law that increases state oversight over the oil and gas industry and requires the state to minimize emissions of climate disrupting methane and other pollution that threatens public health. The counties are challenging the Air Quality Control Commission’s first step to implement this law, including:
- Requirements for more frequent (quarterly or monthly) inspection for leaks on equipment that is within 1,000 feet of “occupied areas,” such as homes and schools.
- Requirements that operators inspect facilities for leaks at least twice a year, even at low producing wells, and fix any leaks. Although these rules previously applied within the Denver metro and North Front Range area, which is already in violation of federal public health standards for ozone, the state expanded these protections to wells on the West Slope and in northern Colorado.
- Expansion of the number of storage tanks subject to emission controls.