Anti-Fracking Groups Still Testing Limits Of New Oil And Gas Law Protections

The impact of oil and gas operations on public health continues to be a local concern and protections provided under new laws remain unclear.

In advance of a public discussion happening Thursday, January 16th, on fracking’s impact on air quality, KGNU’s Maeve Conran spoke with one of the event panelists, former State Representative and Executive Director of Colorado Rising, Joe Salazar.

Listen to the interview below:

Since the passage of Senate Bill 19-181 lawmakers, fracking opponents and advocates have wrestled with the boundaries of the new law.  Weld County, the number one producer of oil and gas in the state, has said they will use the increased oil and gas-related authority the bill gives communities to expand their fossil fuel production. Salazar says to do so would be a misinterpretation of the law. “[SB 181] is extremely clear that it establishes a floor to protect public health, safety, welfare in the environment and wildlife resources… A local government could have more strict and more protective regulations over the oil and gas industry but it cannot fall below that floor.”

When asked about where such a lawsuit would likely originate Salazar said a neighboring county could possibly sue Weld county citing SB 181. Salazar feels it’s unlikely the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would pursue Weld County for their stance on SB 181 in court, considering the agency has demonstrated a bent toward suing communities taking an anti-fracking approach.

Two environmental groups, Our Health Our Future, Our Longmont, and Food & Water Watch, filed a new case in Boulder District Court Tuesday calling for a judge to determine whether local communities and governments can ban fracking. The activist organizations say Senate Bill 181 legislatively nullifies an earlier state Supreme Court decision that overturned a voter-approved ban in Longmont.

Joe Salazar, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, says that the powers granted to local governments by Senate Bill 181 did not prohibit fracking bans. He believes the residents of Longmont have suffered injury and could suffer future injury to their health, safety and property interests as the result of local fracking.

“We believe we need to take whatever action is needed to protect our communities and if that means reviving a band such as Longmont’s, then we will do that. If that means we have to turn around and sue the COGCC for its failure to enforce its own laws, then we will do that too. If that means that we have to take on the oil and gas industry In order to protect our communities from this abusive industry, we will do that too.”

At Thursday evening’s What is In Our Air? The Path to Clean Air in Longmont event, Salazar told the crowd the fight to control the oil and gas industry lies with communities as the industry will seek to once again outspend any ballot measure or legislation that challenges it.

Listen to Salazar’s comments below: