Impacts of Oil & Gas Drilling
Oil & gas development includes much more than drilling a well. Thousands of acres of land in Colorado are disturbed by pipelines, roads, compressor stations, transmission lines, wastewater containment ponds and well pads – turning agricultural land into industrial sites.
Underground minerals (like oil and gas) in the West can be owned by a different individual or corporation than the one who owns the surface property above. Under current law, companies that lease oil and gas have a legal right to extract their minerals, and landowners have only limited power to ensure responsible development on their land. (Download a sample Surface Use Agreement with a supplemental Exhibit between a surface landowner and an owner of underlying mineral rights.)
The state regulatory agency for gas development, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), has a dual mandate of promoting gas development and protecting public health, safety and the environment. Frequently, these mandates are at odds with one another. Contact WCC Director of Organizing, Frank Smith at (970) 256-7650 for more information.
Whitewater Drilling Proposal
Fram Operating has submitted a plan to the BLM encompassing 90,000 acres of public, private and split estate lands for oil development in the Whitewater-area of western Colorado.
The proposed Master Development Plan [MDP] stretches 15 miles southeast of Grand Junction and 8 miles northwest of Delta, in Mesa and Delta Counties. The proposal is to drill up to 108 new wells from 12 new or existing well pads.
The BLM accepted public comments on the proposal through 12/1/11.
Battlement Mesa HIA
In May 2009, Antero Resources announced a proposed Comprehensive Development Plan that would include constructing ten well pads [map] and drilling over 200 natural gas wells within the residential area of Battlement Mesa. Some pads could be as close as 400 feet from homes and recreation areas.
Over 400 citizens demanded thorough analysis of potential impacts before any permitting decision. In early May 2011, Garfield County commissioners voted to stop the first-ever Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for natural gas development.
Written by the Colorado School of Public Health at University of Colorado-Denver, the HIA quickly grew in breadth, as researchers began to realize natural gas development permeates all aspects of life in rural communities. The draft HIA contains over 70 recommendations including disclosure of chemicals, increasing setbacks from homes, involving citizens in drilling decisions, and decreasing emissions.
Bucket Brigade: With the help of the Global Community Monitor project, Battlement Mesa residents now have a “Bucket Brigade” to monitor real-time air quality in their backyards. Collecting air samples in specially equipped five-gallon buckets, trained residents are now part of GCM’s worldwide efforts to record pollution incidents.
Project Rulison (the 1969 underground nuclear test site near Parachute, CO) is an example of a proposed gas development where the surface owners do not have legal “standing” in order to articulate their concerns. Two families live near the blast site, and are very concerned with drilling near the original detonation zone. However, current law does not allow these families to ask for a hydrologic study—let alone a cessation of activities near a nuclear blast site.
In the 2009 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers passed House Bill 1292, the Rule Review Bill, with its recommendations to update policies that govern fossil fuel extraction. This marked an end to the multi-year process which began in 2007 when state lawmakers directed the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to update its rules to include public health and wildlife protections.
The new rules for the COGCC encourage companies to perform long-term planning, use new technologies and implement “best management practices in order to protect public health and wildlife resources. In addition, the Division of Wildlife and the Department of Public Health & Environment now have the ability and legal standing to voice concerns associated with development proposals and its effects on drinking water, air quality, and wildlife habitat.
This COGCC rulemaking is a result of WCC’s #1 success in the 2007 state legislature, the passage of House Bill (HB) 1341 to reform the COGCC. HB 1341:
- Revises the mission of the COGCC to include more focus on “responsible and balanced development” and adds specific language regarding “protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”
- Gives the CDPHE a permanent role in reviewing and commenting on COGCC decisions that could affect public health.
- Expands the COGCC to nine members (from seven) with expertise in the following areas: environmental or wildlife protection (1); local government (1); soil conservation or reclamation (1); oil & gas industry (3); Director of Dept of Natural Resources and Director of the Dept of Public Health & the Environment.
- Download a pdf version of Your Land, Your Rights for Garfield, Delta and Rio Blanco Counties. Call 970-256-7650 to request a copy of the version for Montrose, Mesa, Ouray and San Miguel Counties.
- The movie Gasland, which was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award, features Western Colorado landscapes and residents, including WCC members!
- Split Estate, a documentary mapping a tragedy in the making, as citizens in the path of a new drilling boom in the Rocky Mountain West, including several members of Western Colorado Congress, struggle against the erosion of their civil liberties, their communities and their health.
- Undermined, a story by 6o Minutes Australia with a Colorado perspective on gas development. [5/14/2010]
- The surface use agreement negotiated for Ted Turner’s Vermjo Park Ranch in New Mexico allows for the development of coalbed methane in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.
- Filling the Gaps: WORC finds multi-billion dollar taxpayer liability for oil and gas clean-up.
- Law and Order in the Gasfields: A WORC report focuses on safeguarding our air, water, land, and quality of life by strengthening oil and gas inspection and enforcement programs.