DENVER – A hearing on gas and oil regulations in Weld County on Monday turned into an attack on the industry and Gov. John Hickenlooper, perhaps foreshadowing a similar meeting set for Durango in October.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates much of the robust energy industry in the state, held a hearing in Greeley as part of an effort to reach out to areas outside of Denver. The next destination hearing is scheduled for Durango on Oct. 27-28.
Weld County has been in the spotlight after fears around seismic activity near wastewater disposal sites were raised. Recent earthquakes registering at 2.6 and 3.4 magnitudes were recorded near Greeley.
The commission halted activity at an injection well and launched an investigation. NGL Water Solutions DJ LLC, the operator, was required to plug the basement of the well in order to seal a pathway and create a safe distance.
Injection wells are a popular way for companies to dispose of some wastewater used in drilling processes. The water is re-injected into the ground through a well.
Fracking has long been used in wells by mixing chemicals, sand and water to create small fractures under the ground to stimulate production of new and existing gas and oil wells. There can be billions of gallons of wastewater produced each year.
Throngs of people testified at the hearing, encouraging the gas and oil commission to crack down on the industry. The comments often caused an eruption of applause from the audience.
“How much of our groundwater ... are you contaminating, and how much are you destroying?” Phil Doe, an environmental activist with Be The Change U.S.A., asked the COGCC commissioners. “The water in this state constitutionally belongs to us, it doesn’t belong to you, and it doesn’t belong to the gas and oil industry. You have no right to destroy it; we have not given you permission.”
The hearing occurred as U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, continues to finance two ballot initiatives that would increase the state setback requirement for wells from 500 feet to 2,000 feet and authorize local governments to enact rules and regulations that are more stringent than the state’s.
Some of the attention turned specifically to Hickenlooper, a former geologist and Democrat who once drank frack fluid to demonstrate his unequivocal support for fracking.
Hickenlooper came under fire after supporting a lawsuit filed by the state against Longmont for enacting rules and regulations that overstepped the state’s authority. In a separate lawsuit, a Boulder County District Court judge last week ruled that a fracking ban enacted by Longmont voters in 2012 violated state law.
Hickenlooper is also vehemently opposed to the ballot proposals being pushed by Polis.
“We want to send a strong message to Gov. Hickenlooper that the decisions of his administration to place multiwell industrial facilities inside neighborhoods are unacceptable,” said Carl Erickson, president of Weld Air and Water, which formed to oppose drilling near residential areas.
At a recent news conference opposing the ballot proposals, Hickenlooper pointed to the state’s efforts to curb methane emissions through tougher regulations, as well as a fracking fluid ingredients disclosure rule.
“We’re proving that we can take full advantage of the innovations in oil and gas development, while at the same time maintaining the highest ethical, safety and environmental standards,” Hickenlooper said.
Sarah MacQuiddy, president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, was one of the few gas and oil supporters to testify Monday.
“It’s safe, affordable, reliable and clean, ...” she said. “Weld County really is the epicenter for a new generation of energy development, as well as abundant benefits that bring the local community much support in an economic-development way.”