Liane Jollon, director of Southwest Colorado’s largest public health department, has been tapped by Gov. Jared Polis to help lead sweeping changes in how the oil and gas industry is regulated in Colorado.
In April, Polis signed a significant overhaul of state oil and gas rules, Senate Bill 19-181, which shifts the focus from encouraging production to making public safety and the environment the top priority.
“Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over, and the winner is all of us,” Polis said April 16, the day the bill was signed into law.
Earlier this month, Polis announced the appointments of seven people who will serve on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission whose role is to draft a new set of oil and gas regulations that reflect the priorities laid out in the new law.
The commission has until July 1, 2020, to complete the task – at which time the seven members’ terms will expire and a new, permanent commission will be appointed.
“It’s a big job,” said Chris Arend, spokesman for COGCC.
Jollon, who started working at San Juan Basin Public Health in 2010 and became director in 2013, applied to serve on the commission and was selected to bring her expertise in public health issues, Arend said.
“The COGCC has an important new mission where Coloradans’ public health is a high priority in regulating oil and gas activity,” Arend wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “Liane Jollon with her experience and expertise as executive director of San Juan Basin Health will provide an important and informed perspective on public health issues as the commission considers new rules and processes overseeing the industry in the next year. We are excited to have her on the commission.”
Jollon said she has lived in Southwest Colorado for 20 years, and before joining the health department, she worked at nonprofits that had a focus on public health.
“I’m there to bring the public health lens,” she said.
As oil and gas drilling inches closer to homes in Colorado, concerns have been raised about the potential impacts to human health, mostly tied to air and water quality.
But there’s little definitive science, so far, that proves a link between impacts to health from living near oil and gas sites, according to a 2017 state report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The CDPHE said that’s likely because “a relatively small number of … studies have been published that evaluate potential associations between oil and gas emissions and health outcomes.” The agency has called for more focus on the topic.
Just a year later, the Colorado School of Public Health found people living within 500 feet of an oil and gas facility have an increased risk of cancer, reigniting calls for better regulations and policies to protect communities near industry operations.
“This report underscores the potential public health importance of the 500-foot setback and the need to collect more comprehensive air quality data in communities in close proximity to oil and gas operations,” CDPHE Executive Director Larry Wolk told The Denver Post at the time.
That’s where the commission is expected to step in, through the implementation of better emission controls, leak detections and stricter setback rules.
Jollon said oil and gas operations do present a health risk, but more study needs to be done. Once the science is in, it will help members of the commission come up with rules to best protect residents of Colorado, she said.
“It feels like a huge responsibility,” Jollon said. “But it’s a great opportunity to serve the state.”
Jollon is the only member of the commission from Southwest Colorado, where there are more than 3,000 oil and gas wells.