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Drill drain

New coalitions form to temper the impacts of Colorado's latest oil and gas boom

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Aerial images of the Grass Mesa in western Colorado, - taken in 1989 ... - IMAGES COURTESY OF SKY TRUTH, SKYTRUTH.ORG
  • Images courtesy of Sky Truth, skytruth.org
  • Aerial images of the Grass Mesa in western Colorado, taken in 1989 ...

Following last year's record-breaking glut of state-issued oil and gas drilling permits, large citizen coalitions and powerful statewide interest groups have begun to push against Big Energy, with some success.

Last month, the nine-member board of Colorado's Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously to monitor storm water pollution from drilling sites larger than one acre.

"We're disappointed in that result," says Ken Wonstolen, senior vice president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group.

The commission's decision came after thousands of citizens, national and state legislators, and more than 50 local governmental bodies lined up to oppose the oil and gas lobby's drive to limit environmental regulation.

Another battle is under way at the state Capitol, where Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, recently introduced a bill that would force oil and gas companies to sign a compensation agreement with landowners before building roads and drilling on their property, or post a minimum $25,000 bond, per well, to cover damages. It also allows landowners to sue energy companies if they don't pay.

... and 2004, show the kind of rapid increase in energy - development affecting many of the states rural areas. - IMAGES COURTESY OF SKY TRUTH, SKYTRUTH.ORG
  • Images courtesy of Sky Truth, skytruth.org
  • ... and 2004, show the kind of rapid increase in energy development affecting many of the states rural areas.

A similar bill failed last year, but Curry's has gained serious clout. It reportedly has backing from the powerful Colorado Home Builders Association and the Colorado Association of Realtors, along with the usual Big Energy critics, like the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

"A lot of these entities haven't spoken with one voice in the past," says TJ Brown, the environmental coalition's Front Range field director.

With the state issuing more than 4,000 drilling permits last year, up from around 3,000 in 2004, Coloradans are facing an onslaught of new drilling. But unlike the old boom-and-bust days, many local governments are seeking to subdue impacts.

Still, those efforts have come in the face of sky-high demand for oil and gas, and concessions made by Congress. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, for example, favors the industry by doling out exemptions to the Clean Water Act. In effect, last month's decision to regulate storm water defies Washington, D.C.

"It became an issue of local government control because the federal government had taken a pass," says Randy See, water issues coordinator for the Western Colorado Congress, a grassroots organizing group.

See says communities concerned by the rapidly growing energy boom across Colorado are encouraged by recent events.

"People are thrilled to work on something successfully."

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