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Colorado fracking disputes continue

Local organization files legal complaint

Fracking continues to be a contentious issue among policymakers
Illustration: April Kinney . The Sentry

As the global climate change protests slow down, Colorado’s fracking debate grows increasingly tense. On Oct. 9, local anti-fracking group Colorado Rising filed a legal complaint on behalf of the Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regarding violations in their site approval process. The complaint was filed in request of a judicial review by Denver City Council. Joe Salazar, former House Representative of Colorado, represents the legal counsel for Colorado Rising.  

According to a press release from Colorado Rising, the complaint was filed after an oil and gas corporation filed for approval to start drilling in Broomfield in July of this year. The plaintiffs in the case claim that the approval request was expedited, indicating a breach in the newest policy on oil and gas sites, Senate Bill 19-181.  

This past spring, Governor Jared Polis signed SB 19-181 as one of his first acts as governor. The bill requires that oil and gas operations prioritize public safety and that all drill sites must be carefully evaluated for any public risks.  

With the intention of minimizing adverse effects from fracking sites, the introduction of SB 19-181 followed several environmental policy losses. In 2018, Proposition 112, which would have required a mandatory distance between drill sites and residential areas, was defeated despite support from several Colorado counties.  

Polis’ predecessor, John Hickenlooper, gained notoriety for his ardently pro-fracking stance. Hickenlooper opposed Proposition 112, and in 2013, the then-governor drank fracking fluid at a meeting with oil executives to demonstrate its safety.  

A recent study conducted in Colorado by ICF International concluded that living within 2,000 feet of oil and gas sites can cause detrimental health conditions, like headaches and dizziness. Such ailments vary based on proximity, production cycle of the site and weather conditions.  

“Our response is threefold and includes a new plan for permit review, a new plan for testing, and then a plan to use the information from the testing for future regulation and rulemaking,” COGCC Director Jeff Robbins said in response to the published study.  

But the response from Colorado Rising argues that the study is inadequate. The study does not measure cancer risks, nor does it study areas with multiple drill sites, such as Broomfield. According to Anne Lee Foster, Communications Director for Colorado Rising, “The CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] repeatedly stated they don’t know at what frequency the exposure is happening. How can they proceed with permitting if they don’t even know the level of harm being done in the first place?”  

The impact of fracking remains a contentious debate. “A lot of people see natural gas as a steppingstone before we can make green energy on a larger scale. This wouldn’t be so bad (considering the alternative), except that the technology and funding required for that kind of infrastructure and energy holding is severely lacking,” Michaela Butler, President of Students for Sustainability and Conservation (SSC), said 

While natural gas is still a common energy source, there are ways to minimize its consumption. “Don’t eat red meat, don’t overeat, get power cords for your appliances and turn them off when you sleep or aren’t home, and take public transit,” Butler said.  

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