The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee (COGCC) surprised the industry on Wednesday by supporting a rule change that would increase setback requirements for oil and gas operations fourfold—a proposal reminiscent of one that voters decisively rejected in 2018.
In response, industry leaders are urging the commission to reconsider its decision, emphasizing that voters have already made their stance clear to regulators by rejecting an increase in setback requirements.
“Less than two years ago, the voters of Colorado made it clear they do not support unnecessarily punitive or onerous setbacks by voting down Proposition 112,” said Lynn Granger, executive director of API Colorado, who told Western Wire that the group was “very disappointed” with the commission’s discussions and called the decision to increase the statewide setback “unwarranted” and “a political decision rather than a sound policy decision.”
“Today, we heard commissioners make comments that failed to account for the hundreds of other regulations outside of setbacks that are being considered in this rulemaking that will make Colorado’s already safe oil and natural gas industry even safer. We would encourage the commissioners to take a step back and consider the immeasurable damage this decision could cause to our industry and to our economy,” she added.
In 2018, voters rejected Proposition 112 by a margin of 10 points. The proposition aimed to increase the state setback requirement from 500 to 2,500 feet. Despite the disappointment of anti-energy groups, such as Colorado Rising, they vowed that the battle was not over and hinted at the possibility of advocating for a future ballot measure.
However, during a session on Wednesday to review proposed setback rule changes, four out of the five newly appointed commissioners favored an extended setback to safeguard public health and safety and minimize nuisances. The only dissenting voice was Bill Gonzalez, a former oil and gas industry executive, who expressed concerns about the setback.
“I don’t think that is the right number and the right way of going about it,” he said.
Prominent figures in the state’s oil and gas industry are also critical of the COGCC, asserting that the committee is imposing heavy-handed regulations unilaterally, instead of engaging with the industry to seek a compromise.
“Coloradans overwhelmingly voted down greater setbacks just two years ago, and the state lawmakers who passed Senate Bill 181 consistently said the law wouldn’t create the same type of dire outcomes envisioned by the activists who pushed for greater setbacks. Yet here we are, facing the same blunt and shortsighted approach of Proposition 112,” said Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Dan Haley.
The commission seems to be departing from a collaborative approach, emphasizing a renewed effort to push for increased setbacks, a proposition that the state’s voters had already rejected.
“We supported at least 80 percent of what COGCC staff proposed in the draft rules, and for commissioners to ignore all of that work over the past year and fold a politically driven 2,000 foot setback increase into this rulemaking, without any legitimate scientific evidence demonstrating its need, is shameful,” Haley said.
Raising the setback requirement, akin to the 2018 Proposition 112 effort, could result in the closure of a significant portion of production in the state. This move would deal a substantial blow to an industry that has already been grappling with the challenges posed by an oil price crash earlier this year.
“The setback recommendation is completely arbitrary, not based on science, and is being made without any legitimate consideration of its impacts on working families across our state, all while unemployment remains high and our economy flounders in recession,” Haley continued.
Apart from economic considerations, Haley pointed out that COGCC commissioners and non-partisan staff are in disagreement, suggesting a departure from science-based and economically informed decision-making in favor of perplexing government regulations.
“Non-partisan COGCC staff, which has decades of experience protecting public health and safety in Colorado, put forward recommendations based on their years of working with stakeholders. Those recommendations were dismissed by commissioners who promised to be guided by science and data, but instead today turned to arbitrary and unjustified setbacks distances that provide no additional protection and will stifle Colorado’s economic recovery,” he added.
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