An oil and gas drilling rig towers above a Weld County neighborhood on June 5, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Let’s set the record straight: Coloradans can’t trust the oil and gas industry to put public health and safety ahead of their bottom line. Just like any other industry, oil and gas must be held accountable in order to protect the well being of Coloradans and our environment.

Thankfully, new rules governing oil and gas in Colorado were recently — and unanimously — passed by a commission of experts. These rules prioritize the health and safety of Coloradans and our iconic wildlife. 

This is a big change and a big win for Colorado. Before the passage of SB 181 in 2019, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) lacked the tools and specific policy direction to rein in this powerful industry and protect our health and environment. Absurdly, it was the job of the COGCC to “foster” the oil and gas industry and only take steps to protect public health and safety if it was cost effective to do so.

Beau Kiklis

Our legislative leaders and Gov. Jared Polis wisely tasked the experts at the COGCC with writing detailed rules to achieve a new mission: protecting public health, safety, and our environment rather than helping the oil and gas industry make a profit. 

Critically, they also gave the COGCC’s experts an opportunity to make necessary changes outside of the traditional bounds of politics and uninfluenced by well-heeled corporate interests.

Thanks to the clarity of our leaders, the COGCC was unwavering in its mission. Jeff Robbins, chairman of the COGCC, said that the body was “tasked with making a setback and a regulatory regime that is protective,” not “to create a setback that is workable for all parties.” He is exactly right.

So what do these common-sense rules do? They protect us and address quantum leaps in oil and gas technology that brought the industry ever closer to our backyards.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

The COGCC’s new rules require drilling to take place a minimum of 2,000 feet from our homes and schools. Previously, other energy-producing states like Texas and Wyoming had stricter rules than Colorado. 

The rules provide expanded protections for “Disproportionately Impacted Communities” by defining the term and requiring greater notice and standing provisions for families living in those communities. A ban on venting and flaring improves our air quality.

Protections are also expanded for Colorado’s wildlife and their habitats. Additional protections include a new setback from public water supplies and regular groundwater testing statewide, critical steps towards protecting 30% of Colorado’s lands and waters by 2030, as science says we must.

ANOTHER VIEW: New limits on oil and gas ignore the will of Colorado voters

Ultimately, the oil and gas industry will have to consider the full range of impacts of development on a wide array of important topics. They’ll have to adhere to the comprehensive criteria to evaluate other possible locations that could better protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife.

A majority of Coloradans support these common sense reforms to rein in overreach by the oil and gas industry. According to Colorado College’s 2020 Conservation in the West poll, 70% of Coloradans are concerned about the impact of oil and gas drilling on our land, air and water. And when presented with choice, two-thirds of Coloradans support protections for our air, water, and wildlife along with access to our public lands when compared to “responsible oil and gas drilling and mining.” 

Coloradans want action to protect our health and fight against climate change, and with good reason.

The reality is, the rapid expansion of oil and gas development has overstepped a social boundary — and there are irreversible consequences that are already affecting our way of life.

The industry expanded operations within heavily populated areas and near water sources, but state laws and regulations have not addressed this growing threat. Oil and gas is a dirty, dangerous business, and without reforms, the industry will continue to clash with established and growing neighborhoods. The health of Coloradans, especially Indigenous and Latinx Coloradans, as well as other Coloradans of color, is at stake.

By adopting these new rules to protect public health and safety, Colorado sets the national example that bold climate and environmental solutions can and must occur in energy-producing states like ours. 

I applaud our leaders who took action. For the sake of our communities and wild places, it’s up to us to set the standard for climate leadership and show that when it comes to oil and gas activities, health and safety must always come first.

Beau Kiklis is public lands advocate at Conservation Colorado, which works throughout the state to protect air, land, water and people.

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Beau Kiklis

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