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.