Next time you want to voice an opinion or concern to state oil and gas regulators, you’ll want to plan ahead.
In a notice posted on its website Monday, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) noted that it recently has seen “a significant increase in the volume of public comment” at its hearings — and so has some new policies for those who want to make their voices heard.
To start, the agency will now restrict the public comment period at these hearings to two hours at the start of each meeting. Hoping to speak? The agency asks that you sign up online ahead of time, and that you provide a “short written summary of the substance of [your] comments” when you sign up. (Specific docket numbers are preferred.) But hurry — online signups will close on the Fridays before each meeting.
Once meetings are underway, elected officials will be given speaking priority, followed by those who signed up online, with walk-ins last. No matter your status, you’ll only be allowed the floor if time allows.
If you haven’t spoken by the time the allotted two hours are over, you’re “invited to return at the conclusion of commission business” to provide your comments.
This business can conclude sooner or later than expected — or even spill into the following day — so it will be your responsibility to follow the hearings (which are streamed on YouTube) and return “at the appropriate time.”
Julie Murphy, a spokeswoman for the COCGG, wrote in an email to The Colorado Independent that the agency initiated the changes “to provide greater transparency for the public and better organization during the meetings.” Prior to the release of the written policy, she explained, the public comment process was “historically unwritten.”
Micah Parkin, an organizer for environmental group 350 Colorado, says she takes particular issue with the COGCC’s justification for these new written policies.
“They specifically reference that it’s in response to so many people turning out to these hearings,” she says. “As more and more of the public is trying to be heard, they’re choosing to listen less, not more… It’s really quite shameful.”
Broomfield resident Jean Lim, who has attended multiple COGCC hearings over the past year and a half in response to oil and gas development near her neighborhood, says she has witnessed public comment periods go well over two hours. She admits that the packed meetings can be “a pretty chaotic experience,” but doesn’t think the new policy will change that.
Colorado residents, particularly those from the Front Range, have been showing up to COGCC meetings in greater numbers as oil and gas development further encroaches on residential areas and schools.
The hearing after the fatal explosion in Firestone last April was so packed that many members of the public had to wait outside the hearing room.
“For the COGCC to suddenly implement new rules that are trying to suppress public comment is very upsetting to those of us who are in the impacted neighborhoods,” Lim says.
The full policy is available here.