Reflection on Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) End of Session Review Breakfast

At the inaugural Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) End of Session Review Breakfast on 5/12/2017, Senator Dominick Moreno (R-Commerce City) said that contentious issues demand that people “put themselves in uncomfortable places” and be willing to “have hard conversations.”  Since Broomfield Concerned also believes this is important, Jennifer Dulles and I attended the May 12 COGA breakfast held in the ballroom of the Denver Athletic Club.  State Rep. Matt Gray (D-Broomfield) was listed as one of 4 panelists, so we were especially interested in how he would represent our interests in these conversations.

The moderator started by stating that everyone was “shocked by the tragic accident” in Firestone but was quick to repeat the constant oil & gas industry mantra that “Colorado has the toughest regulations in the country.”  Sen. Kevin Priola (R-Adams County) applauded industry for taking a proactive, transparent stance and reminded everyone that “industrial accidents happen in all walks of life.”  As I listened, I wondered how he reconciled that statement with his vote against HB17-1256 Oil and Gas Facility Distance from School Property.  In response to a question if Sen. Priola’s constituents were concerned about Firestone, Sen. Priola replied that “a lot of them were busy working” and they understood that the investigation would find out “what was missed.”  Residents of Adams County, you might want to write Sen. Priola because he thinks you are too busy “working” to care about your health and safety!

Rep. Matt Gray stated that his Broomfield constituents have many safety concerns due to the major oil & gas development proposed by Extraction, with no other issue even running a close second in his district.  He stated that as a panel member, he wanted to present the perspective of Broomfield to the industry because it was probably not one they would readily understand.  He said people move to Broomfield for safety and that “our standard for what is safe is terrifyingly high.”  He told the industry representatives that this was not about “cost-benefit analysis,” and he repeated that the safety standards of Broomfielders are “unbelievably high” to avoid any risk at all near their families.  He suggested that it would be hard for anyone in Broomfield to look at this oil & gas development as similar to an airplane ride, where you recognize the risks but are open about it.

I wasn’t sure if Rep. Gray was painting Broomfielders as extremists, but then when he said that there is “a knowledge gap still there” on the part of Broomfielders, I realized that I had definitely come to an “uncomfortable place,” to use Sen. Moreno’s reference.  As I listened to Rep. Gray refer to “a knowledge gap,” I thought about the countless hours that the members of the Update Committee have spent on education,  and I wanted to challenge any industry person in the room to ask them a question that they couldn’t address.  Rep. Gray warned the industry leaders that “the situation is not going away,” and he said that everyone needed “to act in good faith.”

When Rep. Gray was asked by the moderator what oil & gas issues should be addressed in the 2018 legislative session, he replied that he would like to be able to deliver some resolutions to the conflicts between the Broomfield community and the oil & gas industry in “a realistic way.”  However, he stated that he had not put his name on any legislation in 2017 because he was not “interested in shouting matches.”  After the panel was finished, I introduced myself to Rep. Gray as a Wildgrass resident and asked why he had not sponsored HB17-1336 Additional Protections Forced Pooling Order when we had bipartisan Broomfield support for it.  Rep. Gray replied that he had spoken in favor of it but that it still resulted in a shouting match at the statehouse even if Broomfield had bipartisan support.  He stated that he had spoken on our behalf to Sen. Vicki Marble (R- Broomfield/Larimer/Weld) but that didn’t result in any change to her vote.  I left the conversation thinking about the role of elected officials: Is their job to avoid difficult bill sponsorship, or is it to represent the bipartisan consensus of their constituents?  Is engaging in a shouting match in which he is passionately representing his constituents the exact thing he should be doing? Rep. Gray seemed open to continuing the conversation.

In addition to further discussion with Rep. Gray, Jennifer thought an action item after this breakfast should be to invite all the attendees to Broomfield so that they can discover for themselves that we have legitimate reasons for our “terrifyingly high” safety concerns and that “our knowledge gap” is not that large.  At BCCN, we are proud of our community’s efforts to work together to become informed to secure the health and safety of all of our residents.

Jean Lim, Wildgrass