Tensions boil over during public comment at oil and gas meeting

Colorado had a passionate debate over oil and gas drilling before those two people died in a home explosion in Firestone because of an uncapped line from a nearby well.

DENVER - Colorado had a passionate debate over oil and gas drilling before two people died in a home explosion because of an uncapped line from a nearby well.

Since that tragedy, tensions got kicked up a notch higher.

Those emotions were plain to see during Monday’s public comment of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting.

“This is ridiculous. This has got to stop. We've got to stop the permits, we've got to look at the health of people of Colorado,” said community member Vivian Weinstein.

Weinstein was one of nearly 40 people who spoke during the commission’s public comment period.

“You have blood on your hands. By allowing new permits for gas and oil, you are killing people,” said community activist Zabrina Arnovitz. “When a house blows up from a faulty well, it's your fault.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission always gives people a chance to speak, but staff told 9NEWS it’s normal to see half a dozen people speak, not close to 40.

RELATEDUncapped, abandoned gas line caused Firestone home explosion

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“You should all change your name to the Colorado Oil and Gas Collusion Commission, because you're not representing the public in any way, shape or form in anything that you're doing,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region Director at Food & Water Watch.

The question is, does such discourse resolve anything or move an issue forward?

“I wouldn't be here if I didn't think you were fundamentally decent people,” said Joseph Zemek, “If I thought you were not decent people, I wouldn't bother trying to change hearts I didn't believe could be changed.”

“I feel kind of beat up for being a volunteer,” said Tommy Holton, commission member and its chair for the day.

“That's the impression I get from some of them; there is no way they're gonna be happy unless all oil and gas activity stop, which is not going to happen,” Holton said. “We try and make good decisions, based on public comment, based on industry. Oil and Gas Commission does not work for the oil and gas industry.”

The public at Monday's hearing wasn't convinced. They started chanting, disrupting the meeting and were asked to leave.

The question remains, did they sway anyone? Only future commission decisions could possibly show that.

One of the items discussed by the commission after most people were escorted out for chanting was the update on the Firestone explosion.

According to the information publicly discussed during the Monday meeting, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Firestone incident (NTSB is involved because it's transportation of oil and gas through a pipeline).

They have a whole division for these cases when someone dies or there's significant damage due to a pipeline accident.

The NTSB is expected to start interviewing witnesses this week. The report will be available next year, closer to the anniversary of the explosion.

According to the commission’s spokesperson, the group is still investigating the environmental impacts of the explosion as well. 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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