Concerned citizens and organized demonstrators showed up at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) hearing on Wednesday morning to protest developments since the recent signing of Senate Bill 181.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed SB 19-181 in April, establishing new priorities for regulating oil and gas operations. The law shifts the focus to prioritizing health, safety and the environment before development.
Supporters believe the law brings much-needed protection to Colorado's booming population and the environment. During public comment on Wednesday, some argued that the bill doesn't go far enough to protect citizens.
Many people testified questioning why permits were still being issued to oil and gas companies when the state had just started working on writing the new rules.
"They need to put a halt on permits until they figure out what the new bill means, how they will implement it and how to actually make health and safety come first," said Kathryn Maciula.
Maciula, a mother of two who came on her own and not with a group, said she's worried about the health effects of living near fracking.
"I can't sit by and go into my cabin in the woods and pretend it's OK," she said. "My conscious won't let me do that."
In response to questions about the permits, Chris Arend, with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said, "That is not what the legislature and governor envisioned when he signed this bill. They envisioned permits do move forward."
Arend said the COGCC director is using increased scrutiny when signing off on permits. The bill was signed into law in April and went into effect right away. Arend says the COGCC director has signed off on around 339 drilling permits and approximately 40 site permits.
The rules around Senate Bill-181 have to be finalized by next July but since permits will continue to be approved during that time, they could be subject to different regulations based on when they work through the system.
"I would imagine as the rules are implemented," said Arend. "There would be different conditions put on different permits."
"There are a lot of emotions behind this issue, we understand that," added Arend. "I think what this commission is trying to do is actually some of the things they're asking to do."
At one point during the meeting, the COGCC paused public comment because people in the audience were interrupting testimony. A commission member asked for respect and in response, the members of the audience said that's what they are looking for, as well. Some also yelled back "stop poisoning us" at different times throughout the morning.
One man in attendance spoke about his concerns about the health impacts of fracking, while others held up signs with an “F” to represent failing air quality in the state.
Opponents have argued that the bill will stifle a major industry and kill jobs.
Another man at the meeting said the oil and gas industry brings in tax revenues, and that limiting permits would impact kids, the workforce and local communities.
Another person who spoke said thousands of others work in the industry to provide for their families and are always striving to improve technology and be as safe as possible.
9NEWS received a statement from Will Allison, a spokesman for Energy In Depth, a research and education outreach campaign launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The statement said:
“It’s disappointing that activists have chosen to interrupt a public hearing instead of respectively listening to their fellow Colorado residents. The oil and gas industry has worked hard to reduce emissions and are always looking for collaborative partners to boost the economy and protect the environment.”
The governor's office responded in an e-mail saying:
“We urge everyone to be respectful of the process as the COGCC implements rules to ensure the health and safety of Coloradans.”
The meeting was held at the CU School of Public Affairs Terrace Room at 1380 Lawrence Street in Denver.
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