Protesters gathered at the Denver Capitol in conjunction with the Governor’s ‘State of the State’ address

Denver, CO – As Governor Polis gave his 2023 State of the State address, a coalition of community and environmental organizations gathered at the Capitol to spotlight the Polis Administration’s failure to adequately protect Coloradans’ health and the environment and to make the Colorado public, state legislature, local officials, and media aware of the large number of new residential fracking permits being approved by Governor Polis’ regulatory agency – the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The groups called on state legislators and the Governor to ensure that Coloradans have healthy, safe, and livable air quality, water supplies, and climate conditions by opposing residential drilling permits and supporting a phase out of oil and gas permitting by 2030 or sooner.

Those gathered called on the Polis administration for stronger climate leadership and greater protections for Colorado communities living near oil and gas development, citing the sheer volume of new permits being granted across the Front Range as a sign that the Polis administration and the COGCC are failing to protect public health and safety, air and water quality, and to avert climate disaster under SB19-181.

Lucy Molina of Commerce City speaks at the Frack of the State rally + press conference

Photo: Christian O’Rourke

“SB19-181 requires state agencies to protect public health and safety from oil and gas operations, but that has not been the result. Drilling and fracking operations frequently release benzene – a known carcinogen, and are the leading source of Front Range ozone-precursor and GHG air pollutants. The COGCC’s recent decisions to approve hundreds of wells near disproportionately impacted communities of color in Aurora and Weld County indicate that passage of SB19-181 and other recent reforms have not succeeded in protecting Coloradans from rampant residential permitting by the COGCC. PSR’s Compendium makes it clear that no amount of regulation can make fracking safe,” said Lauren Swain, Coordinator, PSR Colorado (Physicians for Social Responsibility).

In addition to being a top source of climate-disruptive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, oil and gas production releases hazardous air and water pollutants, degrading the health of Coloradans. Oil and gas production is by far the #1 source of ozone-precursor emissions contributing to the dangerous Front Range ozone levels rated ‘severe’ by the EPA. Participants at today’s rally and press conference noted that although air pollution and climate change affect us all, they cause greater hardship to low-income communities and people of color and are among the worst forms of environmental injustice.

Street theater at the Frack of the State Rally, Jan. 2023

“Our state’s ozone problem continues to get worse causing negative health impacts for Coloradans along the front range, especially children, elderly and medically vulnerable people. The state has also identified that oil and gas activities are the number one cause of ozone precursors like nitrous oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But instead of reigning in fracking to protect the health of Coloradans, our governor is allowing the regulators to continue to permit hundreds of wells in the ozone nonattainment area without any checks on the pollution.,” said Kate Christensen, a founding member of Together Against Neighborhood Drilling and local activist in Lafayette, Colorado. “The Governor is guaranteeing at least another decade of drilling which means a decade of worsening air quality health and climate impacts. It won’t matter how much we carpool, switch to electric leaf blowers and buy extra expensive gasoline. We won’t be able to make a positive impact on our air quality unless fracking is addressed. If the fracking of our state continues on this trajectory we will set off a carbon bomb that no amount of electric cars on our roads will be able to fix.”

In contrast with Gov. Polis’ proclamation as he signed SB19-181 into law in 2019, speakers noted that “the oil and gas wars are far from over.” Front Range communities are continuing to battle for their health and their lives. In the past few months alone, the COGCC has approved permits for over 1000 hazardous, polluting wells near homes and schools in disproportionately impacted communities, including the massive ‘Box Elder’ plan in Aurora and about 450 wells at the ‘Guanella’ site in Weld County. The COGCC is poised to approve thousands more wells in 2023 including residential drilling projects like the ‘Lowry Ranch’ site in Aurora with up to 174 wells, the ‘Centerra’ site in Loveland, and more in Commerce City, which is already suffering disproportionately from the Suncor refinery’s pollution.

Photo: Christian O’Rourke

“After a decisive victory for Governor Polis and Democrats in the general assembly, there is no excuse for anything less than bold climate action. That means a real, enforceable plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions statewide by mid-century, and a commitment to stop issuing fracking permits by 2030,” said Dr. Brent Goodlet, lead organizer, Climate Movement Co. “The Governor insisted on regulating emissions reductions sector-by-sector, instead of a simpler, more easily enforceable, statewide approach via the AQCC. It’s 2023, yet the Governor’s GHG roadmap to 2026 and 2030 targets remains incomplete. Coloradans are still waiting for a long-promised oil and gas GHG intensity rule for producers, and for an explanation of how such a rule is ultimately compatible with a net-zero future.”

Gov. Polis’ regulators, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), have only denied one oil and gas development plan and have approved over 4500 wells since SB181 passed. Colorado’s GHG Roadmap includes increasing oil and gas production at the same time scientists tell us we must rapidly phase out fossil fuels to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. The Polis administration’s COGCC has failed to protect Coloradans’ health, safety and environment as required by SB181.

“The oil and gas wars in Colorado are not over,” said Micah Parkin with 350 Colorado. “People are still fighting to protect their health, safety – their lives. Thousands of fracking wells have been permitted since Polis was elected. It’s time to reign in fracking in Colorado, to phase out new permits for oil and gas extraction, and to support a just transition to a clean renewable energy future.”

Quotes from Partnering Organizations: 

“The pledge by Governor Polis that Colorado will be converted to 100% renewable energy by 2040 flies in the face of the reality of thousands of fracked wells approved since he first came to office, let alone the 600 plus wells in the approval pipeline for Weld and Adams Counties. If all that fossil fuel isn’t being burned here, it is being burned somewhere else, and that ain’t carbon neutral!” – Ed Behan, for The Larimer Alliance

Photo: Christian O’Rourke

“My neighbors and I are tired of governments prioritizing the profits of oil and gas over critical infrastructure like our reservoir and the health of our community”- Kevin Chan, Community Leader, Save the Aurora Reservoir

“We are monitoring Suncor because the community has asked for it. They are tired that this big refinery continues affecting the air with its chemicals. More importantly, they fear that one day they could be affected with cancer or another illness that is related to some contaminant because the many Commerce City residents present the same symptoms,” said Cristina Ruiz, AIRE Promotora, with Cultivando

“We are here today to spotlight the failures of this administration  in truly living up to so-called climate goals, and to also spotlight the many ongoing fights between people and fossil fuel projects throughout our state. These ceaseless permits are harming communities. This week we also stand in solidarity with communities across the country who are taking action and calling for stronger protections for our health and environment leading up to the 2 year anniversary of President Biden’s inauguration on January 20th. Both Governor Polis and President Biden should declare a climate emergency and immediately prioritize the protection of people over fossil fuels.” – Deborah McNamara, Communications Director, 350 Colorado + on behalf of the People v. Fossil Fuels Coalition 

Photo: Christian O’Rourke

“We banned fracking in New York because it posed a major public health risk. Fracking operations threaten drinking water sources with toxic spills and leaks, emit hazardous and radioactive air pollutants, send plumes of climate-wrecking methane into our atmosphere, and are a proven cause of earthquakes. Coloradans should understand that fracking is inherently violent and chaotic. It is not safe for human health or the climate, and it can’t be made safe through any regulatory framework.  I hope Colorado will be successful in protecting your communities from fracking operations near homes and schools and in demanding an end to all permitting as soon as possible.”-Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., biologist and co-author of The Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking

“The Uinta Basin Railway has been in the works for years. It is another example of our governor letting the fracking industry do whatever they want to our state. In this case – if this railroad is completed and Utah can get their waxy crude to refineries around the country – fracking in Utah could increase so much that our entire country’s GHG output could increase 1-2%. There is zero benefit to Colorado and a whole bunch of harm and hazard. Sen Bennett has spoken out against the 10 two mile long trains full of waxy crude that could pass along the Colorado River every single day and head into Denver. Rep Neguse has spoken out about the harm this could cause not only our beautiful state when a train wrecks but also the harm to the country and the world. Where has Polis been? Why hasn’t he tried to help us stop this oil train? He puts the fracking industry over people every single time and that needs to stop. Stop the fracking permits in our state and stop the fracked oil from Utah from running through it.” – Kate Christensen, founding member of Together Against Neighborhood Drilling and local activist in Lafayette, CO