Fact Check: Will local governments face "steep penalties" if they zone or regulate oil and gas production as they have little control over zoning and regulation?

Out of Gas

Source:

Stephanie Malin

Media Publication:

The Conversation

Originally Published On:

May 14, 2018

Rating:

Out of Gas

Claim #1: Local governments have little power to zone or regulate oil and gas production, and if they do, they face “steep penalties.”

Fact: Local governments determine the setback distance for new structures near existing energy facilities.  Local governments have the authority over zoning and the power to address land use impacts, such as truck traffic, dust and lighting that may result from oil and gas development. Two years ago, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved more rules requiring companies to work more closely with communities when operating near residential areas, including negotiating mitigation measures. The City of Brighton, for instance, “works with operators” so they follow greater standards than are required by the state, such as more stringent noise, water and air standards.

Local governments don't face penalties when trying to restrict oil and gas production, but they are required to follow the law. The Colorado Supreme Court has found that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee is tasked with ensuring a “responsible, balanced” development, production and use of oil and gas“  in a manner consistent with the “protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”  In upholding current and clear state law, the court found that local entities cannot impose their own rules if they are conflict with state law.

Rating: Out of gas.

Claim #2: Hydraulic fracturing and the directional drilling of shale rock formations is commonly called “fracking.”

Fact: Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process where water, sand and chemicals are injected at a high pressure about a mile below the surface to crack open rock layers, which release oil or natural gas. It is merely one part of multiple processes used in energy development. Directional drilling starts with a vertical well that turns horizontal within the reservoir rock.  These “legs” can be over a mile long, which minimizes the land impacts on the surface and allows the use of one drill pad for multiple wells.

It is the combination of fracking, which has been around for more than 70 years, with the modernization of horizontal drilling in the last two decades, that has revolutionized natural gas and oil production.

These two development processes are not commonly called “fracking” except by anti-fossil fuel groups, who use fracking to describe every aspect of development.

Rating: Out of Gas

Claim #3: Fracking has spread into more densely populated areas in Colorado and within a few hundred feet of homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings in states like Colorado.

Fact: This claim ignores that Colorado’s population explosion has resulted in people often moving closer to industry operations, not the other way around.  And Colorado’s state regulations require new oil and gas development to be at least 500 feet from existing homes and 1,000 feet from high occupancy buildings such as hospitals and schools.  Local governments determine setbacks for new structures near existing energy facilities.  Finally, fracking is one part of the oil and gas process and is not spreading haphazardly throughout densely populated areas.

Rating: Sputtering

Claim #4: A growing pool of scientific evidence indicates that living near oil and gas production can endanger public health and there is more air pollution, including methane emissions.

Fact:  Colorado’s health department has found that “based on currently available air monitoring data, the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living near oil and gas operations.” The department has been collecting extensive air sampling measurements in multiple communities near different oil and gas activities using their mobile laboratory. “So far, we have not found any elevated short- or long-term risks,” said Larry Wolk, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  

Colorado was the first state in the country to pass methane regulations requiring the capture of air pollutants released during oil and natural gas operations. Colorado rules require that 95% of pollutants from oil and natural gas operations are captured, which decreases methane emissions by over 60,000 tons. Colorado’s regulations are more protective than federal methane rules issued last year by the EPA. Cutting-edge technology and strict regulations have cut leakage rates by 75 percent in Colorado, according to Climate Wire. Even Conservation Colorado has stated: "Colorado’s forward-thinking work on our state rules has provided a model for the nation, and we have proven that methane rules can coexist with responsible energy development."

Rating: Out of gas

Claim #5:  Colorado’s highest court has ruled that only the state government can control where and when fracking may occur.

Fact: The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the state’s regulatory body, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee, is tasked with ensuring a “responsible, balanced” development, production and use of oil and gas "in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”  In upholding current and clear state law, the court found that local entities cannot impose their own rules if they are in conflict with state law.  Nowhere has the Supreme Court said that state governments control when and where fracking occurs.

Rating: Sputtering

Claim #6: The Trump administration’s efforts to further reduce federal regulations will decrease protections for Coloradans at the state level.

Fact: Colorado’s regulations are considered some of the toughest in the country and include many regulations that were first-in-the-nation, including disclosing fracking fluid contents, pre- and post-drilling water monitoring, pipeline requirements, and methane emission rules, which are more protective than the federal standards.  These regulations remain in place and won't be weakened by actions at the federal level.

Rating: Sputtering.