Lizzie Lario and Jean Lim of the Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee (WOGc) shared the letter that they sent to COGCC Director Jeff Robbins regarding Staff comments about citizen protests made at the January 28 COGCC hearing. You can read further about WOGc challenges to the Extraction project in Broomfield and their lawsuit against the constitutionality of forced pooling here.
January 31, 2019
Dear Director Robbins,
Congratulations on your new position as director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). After learning of your appointment by Governor Polis, we are hopeful that your fresh perspective will result in the COGCC taking a substantive look at all the serious health, safety, environmental, financial and legal challenges the communities are facing. It is in light of this hope that we were concerned about some of the Staff comments during the Staff report at the COGCC January 28 morning hearing.
During that report, Hearing and Regulatory Affairs Manager Mimi Larsen described the backlog of 406 pending applications and the problems that the settling of protests at the last minute causes. She stated to the Commissioners, “We’re quite aware of the stresses – the stresses on Staff, the stresses on you, and the stresses it places on the operator and their counsel.” (1:00:08) What she does not acknowledge is the stress it places on citizens who are protesting. Having been involved in several protests we can say that this has been time consuming, expensive, and always a dead end. We have been kept out of communications between the COGCC and operator, forced to attend prehearing conferences scheduled at the last minute, and denied discovery, witnesses and even the ability to present entire arguments. This is stressful and frustrating.
In response to a question from Commissioner Boigan to categorize the type of protests (1:02:44), Hearings Supervisor James Rouse expressed his disdain for citizens exercising their right to protest. Regarding the operator versus operator protests, he stated without qualifiers that, “Those virtually always have lawyers, they have lots of motions and they are very time consuming.” However, he described the second category of protests by individual landowners who do not want to be force pooled or don’t like their lease offer as easy to dispose of. “There’s not many of those and those are relatively easy to handle, I hate to say DISPOSE OF, but the issues just are not as complex. Oftentimes the parties are pro se, rarely they have attorneys and they’re easier to resolve it seems.” On the contrary, citizens who have full-time jobs and families are paying lawyers to protect their health, safety, welfare, environment and mineral rights. It is hard to imagine that such a condescending attitude would take the cases of citizens seriously and give them due process. We have always felt that the COGCC didn’t understand our position, and Ms. Larsen and Mr. Rouse have now confirmed that.
Regarding the third category of local government protests, Hearing Supervisor Rouse said, “We’re seeing more and more of those UNFORTUNATELY.” He referred to the fact that they are “more difficult to resolve as they are challenging Form 2 and 2As and that sort of thing.” In the past, we followed with interest your own representation of local governments before the COGCC. We hope that you share our recognition that many local governments are just trying to represent the interests of their citizens who have no standing before the COGCC to protect their health and safety.
Even Commissioner Boigan summarized Hearing Officer Rouse’s statements by saying, “The implicit characterization I think of your comments is that, and I know you didn’t state it but I’ll state it, is that lawyer games slow this [hearing] process down.” (1:05:15) Citizens are trying to defend their property rights and protect their health and safety, and no one is interested in playing lawyer games. We hope that your Staff understands the sincere intentions of impacted communities. Director LePore long ago admitted that the current rules, including when and how protests and comments can be made, are not in line with the residential and horizontal drilling projects that are now the norm. We urge you to hold off further permitting to revise the rules to address the current state of affairs.
Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee