DENVER — At the state capitol here Wednesday, a handful of mothers from towns sited in the Northern Front Range drilling fields delivered a petition signed by 8,000 mothers to Governor Hickenlooper’s office asking him to push for tighter air-quality regulations than the draft versions released to the public last week. The women, mostly members of the group Colorado Moms Know Best, arrived arms full of stuffed dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, which they rechristened “Gas Patch Kids,” and lined up outside of the governor’s office.
“We’re here to fight for stricter regulations on the oil and gas industry,” said Andrea Roy, a mother of two who lives in Erie, Colorado. “We’ve been working on this since April but, when the rules were leaked on Monday, we found they’d actually gotten weaker.”
The long-anticipated new regulations, meant mainly to address Colorado’s soaring ozone levels, aren’t expected to be finalized until February. Interest groups that include citizen organizations from communities where drilling is encroaching on living spaces, colorado brewers interested in protecting the state’s “nature-based brand,” and agricultural producers facing reduced crop yields are hoping to see Hickenlooper act on his stated “zero tolerance” policy for fugitive emissions — leaking volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that work to create ozone, but also methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
There are tens of thousands of wells dotting the Northern Front Range landscape. Conservation Colorado reports that industry has drilled 5,000 new wells in roughly four years, which is about four per day. In that time, Colorado has fallen short of meeting federal ozone-level standards. Currently, the Center for Disease Control ranks Colorado second in the nation for the prevalence of asthma, with children ages 1-15 in the “hardest hit group.”
Although automobiles and power plants have been subjected to strict ozone controls for decades, the oil-and-gas extraction industry has come under comparatively much less scrutiny. That’s begun to change over the last decade in light of new research that has found vast amounts of ozone-causing emissions escaping from drill fields.
“The bottom line is that moms are counting on Hickenlooper to protect the health of our kids,” said Jamie Travis, who lead the mothers into the capitol on Wednesday. The group cited failing air quality standards in their communities and increased rates of asthma amongst children in their complaints. One gas patch doll even sported an inhaler.
The group promised that the campaign will continue their message online as the rules are finalized, writing in a release:
“Each Gas Patch Kid will start telling their own stories through social media to educate the public about the negative health effects of air pollution from oil and gas operations can have on child health.”
The Governor was not at the capitol to receive the petition. It came with a hand-drawn cover page from a real-life gas patch kid. Hickenlooper Director of Communications Eric Brown emphasized that the rules are still being weighed.
“The administration’s goal is for Colorado to have regulations that are a national model in protecting public health and the environment,” he said. “The energy boom has been good for Colorado’s economy. We want to make sure our air regulations are good for the environment.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the recently proposed regulations would require oil and gas operators to use auto-ignition devices to burn off emissions. Regulations in place already make that requirement.