Oil and gas industry short on facts, long on embellishments

One thing you have to give credit to the oil and gas industry and its lobbying arm, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA): They stay on message and so do their friends, even when the message completely blows past the truth.

What was supposed to be a hearing to gather opinions about specific new rules regarding oil-and-gas development at last week’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) meeting in Grand Junction ended up being more like a day-long pro-industry commercial. Instead of addressing specific rules that would change current drilling standards, industry supporters relied on emotion, exaggerated claims and scare tactics, promoting a main theme: Any change in oil and gas regulations will cause economic disaster.

The COGCC is a state agency that promotes the development and conservation of oil and natural gas resources, and prevents and mitigates adverse effects that the drilling industry has on public health and the environment. Special 2007 legislation (House Bill 1298 and HB 1341) directed the COGCC to write new regulations that would increase the state’s oversight on oil and gas drilling.

Members of the COGCC faced a sea of oil and gas workers during a rules hearing in Grand Junction last week. (Photo/Leslie Robinson)The 160-page pre-draft new rules plan has three tasks.

First, develop a new drilling application process that will be managed under a comprehensive plan. Second, collect new data and conduct health studies on air and water quality. Third, address impacts on the environment, wildlife and public health in cooperation with the Division of Wildlife (DOW) and the state Public Health and Environment Agency.

Since January, there have been five public meetings and approximately 20 stakeholder meetings around the state to gather public input on the pre-draft rules. The purpose of last week’s hearing at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction was to get input on specific rules before the COGCC document is finalized later this summer.

However, comments from representatives of the crowd of 2,000, predominantly of oil-and-gas workers (at least some of whom were on their company clock) and other pro-industry supporters, had little to do with proposed rules specifics. An informal survey of some of the speakers and audience members revealed a reason why: No one had read the proposed rules — they had derived their opinions mainly from the oil and gas companies they work for or from the information provided by oil and gas lobbyists.

One target of the day-long hearing was the DOW, which proposes to set aside some critical wildlife habitat from drilling activities for a temportary time for elk spring calving, deer winter ranges and bald eagle nests. Although they presented no scientific proof, some critics noted that since they can see elk and deer around drilling rigs, there must be no negative impacts from drilling, hence special wildlife protection isn’t needed. (Apparently, they hadn’t read the wildlife report about the Pinedale, Wyo., deer herd where a loss of habitat from drilling activities has decimated deer populations by almost 50 percent.)

Actually, during the drilling planning process, oil companies can work with the DOW, mitigating their impacts with special conservation plans to limit, if not eliminate, any pause in gas production. Yet, even with a clarification from COGCC representatives, pro-industry supporters continued to misrepresent the intent of this proposed regulation.

In reality, it is very hard to believe the "woe-is-us" line when drilling applications in the state are surging from 6,368 permits in 2007 to a predicted 8,000 in 2008. Also, it is a hollow threat that industry is going to walk away from Colorado when new natural gas pipelines have opened up lucrative eastern U.S. markets and the wholesale price of natural gas has climbed, helping raise oil and gas company incomes to near record levels. And because the oil-and-gas boom is projected to last about 30 years in western Colorado, the industry will have to invent better excuses why wildlife habitat, water and air quality, and citizens’ health should be permanently sacrificed, other than that it will hurt profits.

The message from the oil and gas industry towards new regulations seems to be: “We have built a kingdom of wealth in Colorado, so don’t mess with it.” A response back to that is: “Yeah, but the monarch of that kingdom wears no clothes.”


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