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Amy Mall’s Blog

Oil and gas industry trying to stop citizens from testifying in Colorado--what are they afraid of?

Amy Mall

Posted January 5, 2013

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As I've blogged recently, Colorado is currently considering updating some of its oil and gas rules regarding setbacks from homes and schools, as well as rules for water testing and monitoring. This is the right thing to do; although state rules across the country are not strong enough, at least some states are updating their rules from time to time to catch up with some of the problems posed by oil and gas development.

The oil and gas industry almost always opposes new rules. We wish they wouldn't, because new rules are essential to protect health and the environment and are often in the industry's own interest, economically and otherwise. But in addition to the vast amounts of money the industry often spends to defeat sensible regulations, in Colorado it is now also attempting to muzzle citizens who have direct experience with oil and gas operations.

According to several news reports out of Colorado today, the oil and gas company lobbyists are working to block testimony from impacted citizens at public hearings next week. The Denver Post reports that the companies claim that testimony from Coloradans who live near drilling and fracking sites would be "....improper, 'abusive and harassing' or irrelevant."

It's not any of those things. The lawyer representing NRDC and our partner groups in this rulemaking process is Mike Chiropolis of Western Resource Advocates. As Mike told the Summit County Citizens Voice: "“It’s undemocratic. It’s a bullying tactic. They want citizens to be worried about whether they’ll be allowed to speak." Mike went on to say: “They’re worried that, if the truth comes out, the commission will vote for rules that actually protect public health.”

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports that the industry is even trying to block testimony from Tresi Houpt, who is not only a former Garfield County Commissioner, but also a former commissioner on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission--the commission that will be holding the hearing. If anyone has expertise on this subject, it is Ms. Houpt.

The citizens who live next to oil and gas production operations and have these operations on their property also have relevant and significant experience and insight to share with decisionmakers. Colorado officials should reject industry claims that local citizens should be barred from testifying.

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Michael BerndtsonJan 5 2013 04:01 PM

Amy, from your sentence...
"..., in Colorado it is now also attempting to muzzle citizens who have direct experience with oil and gas operations."

I read muzzle as muscle, which may work better. This post is just sad - Colorado use to have distaste for all things Texas. Now it appears to be a wholly owned subsidiary or colony.

Earl RichardsJan 5 2013 05:44 PM

Where do these oil companies get-off? This shows the arrogance and greed of the oil industry. The oil corporations are trying to take away the freedom of speech of the people of Colorado.

Randall MohammedJan 7 2013 01:39 AM

I've read that the fracking process uses acids which are applied under high pressure to rock formations that contain oil and or gas. Also know as tight oil or gas its difficult to extract using conventional drilling. However the risk is that some of this acid may find its way into the water table, although this depends on how deep they drill. While we cant stop the oil industry from exploration and prodcution of hydrocarbons we could ceratinly insist that they conform to regulations and standards that are aimed at protecting the environment and public health. Oil companies are simply going to have to budget for these costs and live with lower margins. But that's fine as there is lots of margin to work with. I don't forsee prices falling in 2013 and we could see prices maintaining a 2012 price range.

Amy MallJan 7 2013 10:54 AM

Dear Jesse: Thank you for posting a link to the Daily Camera column by Wendy Wiedenbeck of Encana. This is an important issue where I think we are probably on the same side of the coin. Neither NRDC nor I condone any threatening, harrassing, or intimidating actions, especially physical behavior. To the contrary, we find it completely unacceptable. I was recently called a Nazi myself in an on-line comment and, as I said to some colleagues, it is the worst thing anyone has ever said about me, for reasons that are obvious.

The issue that I blogged about in this post -- who should be allowed to present testimony at the COGCC hearing -- is a different issue. The people that industry is trying to block are not threatening or harrassing individuals. Rather they are respected members of their communities, including former county officials, who have extensive direct experience with oil and gas operations and evidence that should be considered in the rulemaking. Industry has even attempted to block our own attorney from representing us. There is no good reason for censoring these Colorado citizens.

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