Colorado Oil & Gas Enforcement
Inadequate enforcement causes irresponsible development
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission fails to achieve its mission to “foster the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.” due to its inadequate enforcement of its own rules.
Under current regulatory enforcement:
- Inspection capacity is inadequate;
- Violations are not consistently assessed;
- Violations are inadequately reported and tracked;
- Fines are rarely issued to violators;
- Fines are inadequate to punish or prevent irresponsible behavior by oil and gas operators;
- The environment is not protected.
Colorado enforcement hasn't kept pace with the drilling boom
Colorado, like many other states, has experienced a drilling boom in the last decade – the number of active wells almost doubled from 22,228 in 2000 to 43,354 in 2010. With a potential shale gas and shale oil boom on the horizon, Colorado is positioned to see even more drilling in years to come. But regulatory enforcement has not kept pace with drilling, and as a result, Colorado’s public health, safety and the environment have suffered.
Colorado Oil & Gas Related Spills
As seen in the above chart compiled from COGCC data reported to the Water Quality Control Commission, there’s been a large increase in the number of oil and gas related spills over the past seven years.
One possible reason for the increase: there's no real incentive for operators to replace faulty equipment or train employees to prevent spills:
- The COGCC rarely penalizes companies responsible for spills; and
- When enforcement actions do occur, they aren't timely.
In 2011, the COGCC imposed fines for a mere five spills, all of which had happened in previous years.
In 2010 and 2011, Noble Energy had more spills than any other operator (126 spills – 81 affected ground water, 6 surface water), yet in 2011 it received an Outstanding Operator Award for environmental protection from the COGCC.
Congratulating the worst spill offender for its efforts at preventing pollution sends the message to both the public and other operators that spills don’t matter and there are no real consequences for breaking the rules.
For more information:
- Earthworks: Enforcement Report - COGCC: Inadequate enforcement means current Colorado oil and gas development is irresponsible. Report
- Earthworks: Colorado Oil & Gas Enforcement. Web page
- Earthworks: Colorado Oil & Gas Enforcement - Inspections. Web page
- Earthworks: Colorado Oil & Gas Enforcement - Enforcement Actions. Web page
- Earthworks: Colorado Oil & Gas Enforcement - Violations. Web page