Western Resource Advocates’ Oil and Gas Reform Efforts In Colorado

Jon Goldin-Dubois“We have a strong history of promoting responsible oil and gas development that protects public health and our environment. Our attorneys, engineers, scientists and policy experts shape public policy that ensures we pass on our Western legacy to the next generation.”

– Jon Goldin-Dubois, President

Since 2007, Western Resource Advocates has consistently engaged in Colorado oil and gas reform efforts. While there is still much to do, Western Resource Advocates’ efforts have led to tremendous reforms over the past decade.The following is a chronological list of actions and accomplishments.

2007: The Colorado Habitat Stewardship Act, which was largely drafted and negotiated by Western Resource Advocates, and the Oil and Gas Commission Reform Act are passed. These laws help to ensure that future oil and gas development is balanced with protections for wildlife, the environment and public health.

2008: The most comprehensive regulatory overhaul in Colorado history begins, encompassing public health, environment, and wildlife protections. WRA was in the thick of the rulemaking process, representing ten citizen and conservation groups. Despite being outnumbered by industry attorneys more than 10-1, the coalition of surface owners, local government, and conservation and wildlife groups that supported the rules largely prevailed, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved the new rules by an 8-0 vote in December 2008.

March 2009: The Colorado General Assembly approved the comprehensive 2008 revisions set in motion by WRA.

April 2009: The legislature’s approval of the comprehensive 2008 revisions was signed into law by Governor Ritter on Earth Day, in a ceremony attended by WRA Lands Program Director Mike Chiropolos.

May 2009: The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, challenging the agency’s approval of a sweeping package of reforms and protections for Colorado’s land, water, and residents in the gas patch.

August 2009: Western Resource Advocates – joined by Earthjustice and National Wildlife Federation – intervened in the case to defend the hard-fought comprehensive reforms incorporated into the 2008 wildlife protection rules.

November 2009: Judge Herbert L. Stern III issued a broad ruling rejecting various claims and procedural maneuvers attempted by COGA to prolong and complicate this straightforward case. The court denied both COGA’s attempt to amend its suit to introduce a vague litany of new allegations and COGA’s effort to “discover” and seek to introduce a virtually limitless set of documents outside the agency record.

Western Resource Advocates maintains that the procedures met and exceeded state law, and that the new rules properly balance future oil and gas development with common-sense protections for wildlife, the environment and public health.

2012: WRA requests to increase drilling setbacks from homes, schools and hospitals resulted in a new oil and gas drilling rulemaking process that considered new public health and environmental protections in Colorado. Western Resource Advocates represented Conservation Colorado, San Juan Citizens Alliance and High Country Citizens Alliance, pressing for strong protections for families living near the gas patch. New rules were passed that increased minimum setbacks from 150 feet to 500 feet from homes and from 350 feet to 1,000 feet from schools and hospitals.

2013: WRA joined other conservation organizations in pushing for rigorous groundwater monitoring regulations in Colorado. In the vast majority of Colorado, the oil and gas industry must now test four groundwater sources within a half mile of a new oil and gas well prior to drilling, and do followup testing six months and six years after drilling.

2013: WRA joined with other conservation organizations in supporting House Bill 13-1278, which required the oil and gas industry to report any spill of over one barrel (42 gallons). WRA’s work through the rulemaking resulted in even greater water quality protections than were required by the legislation.

2014: WRA worked with other conservation organizations to pass House Bill 14-1356, which increased the maximum daily penalty for oil and gas rule violations from $1,000 to $15,000 a day. Western Resource Advocates represented Conservation Colorado in the rulemaking and was successful in requiring mandatory minimum penalties anytime a Class 3 Rule was violated. “Class 3 Rules” are defined as those rules that are directly related to protecting public health, safety, and welfare, including the environment and wildlife resources, a violation of which presents a significant probability of actual or threatened adverse impacts to those interests.

2014: Western Resource Advocate President Jon Goldin-Dubois was appointed to serve on the Oil and Gas Task Force created by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. The task force included representatives from local government and the oil and gas industry. Western Resource Advocates brought a strong and balanced conservation perspective to the important and challenging work of the task force. Ultimately, the task force passed nine recommendations to, among other things, more strictly regulate “large scale oil and gas facilities,” involve local governments in siting decisions of oil and gas facilities, and better enforce air quality regulations. LInk here for more on the Task Force.

2015: Western Resource Advocates was the only conservation organization to be involved in the COGCC’s floodplain rulemaking. As a result of the rulemaking, operators now must install additional mitigation measures to prevent oil and gas spills during flood events.


Project Staff

Laura Belanger

Laura Belanger

Water Resources & Environmental Engineer

Rob Harris

Robert Harris

Senior Staff Attorney