Field Notes: From the Colorado Front Range, January 26th-28th 2021

This blog was co-authored by Nathalie Eddy, Interim Field Manager and NM Field Advocate; and Andrew Klooster, CO Field Advocate.

Earthworks’ CO field staff visited more than half a dozen communities along the I-25 corridor north of Denver and captured optical gas imaging (OGI) evidence of harmful pollution from 31 oil and gas facilities from January 26th to 28th.

Many site visits were in direct response to requests from frontline community members in Weld and Larimer counties. Community members in Fort Collins, Longmont, and Windsor described intermittent strong “gassy” odors and some experienced regular headaches that seem to correspond with the odors.  

We documented video evidence of significant oil and gas pollution—methane and health-hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are known to cause cancer and respiratory illness—from the sites identified by every resident who contacted us. We have shared our findings with concerned community members for each site. For the most significant and concerning emission events, we will soon file complaints with Colorado regulatory agencies CDPHE and COGCC.

Earthworks has made more than 350 visits to oil and gas facilities in CO and has filed 74 complaints with state regulators. Only a handful of our officially filed complaints have resulted in meaningful reductions in harmful oil and gas air pollution.  (You can read our report summarizing our fieldwork findings in CO showing that Colorado’s regulatory agencies are failing to provide necessary oversight of oil and gas). 

On this most recent field trip, we revisited 22 sites where Earthworks has filed complaints with state regulators in the past. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, we observed that 15 of the 22 sites continue to pollute unabated. 

These chronically polluting sites are an indictment of the failures of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to prioritize people over polluters and take enforceable steps to reduce harmful emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Of particular note

On this trip, we captured footage of oil and gas pollution coming from facilities owned by Extraction Oil and Gas–one of Colorado’s top chronic polluters. Extraction has recently emerged from bankruptcy yet remains undeterred from continuing to expand their path of destruction. 

We have filmed their facilities across the Front Range repeatedly over the years as they spew pollutants over nearby homes and into the atmosphere.  

Extraction’s harmful practices and attitude of denial regarding health impacts of their drilling have been pointed out by us before. 

In fact, sites belonging to this operator account for roughly a quarter of complaints filed by Earthworks overall in the state of CO. Yet not a single complaint has ever resulted in a fine or notice of violation issued to Extraction. 

This makes it evident that state regulators at the CDPHE are not up to the task of holding the oil and gas industry accountable for its impacts so long as operators like Extraction are permitted to pollute Colorado communities and the environment.

Read our report on CDPHE’s lack of accountability and failure to prioritize public health

Our state prides itself for leading the nation in oil and gas regulations, but the firsthand stories of frontline residents and the body of evidence from our fieldwork tells a different story. It is time that Governor Polis took the threat of oil and gas as seriously as he proclaims that he does.

Visit our CO campaign website for more information about our work (en Español)