Protesters booted from Colorado oil and gas meeting amid industry tension

Posted at 6:21 PM, Jul 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-24 21:05:27-04

DENVER -- Tempers flared at the latest Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting Monday, as more than two dozen protesters interrupted the meeting and were forced to leave.

"No more drilling!  No more permits!  Stop the appeal!" they chanted as law enforcement escorted them out.

There's been increased tension within the oil and gas industry since a home exploded in Firestone in April.

The protesters are frustrated with the commission's decision to appeal a court ruling that would essentially force it to be more protective of people and the environment.  Currently, the commission tries to square those concerns with oil and gas industry interests.

"We try to balance both," commissioner Tommy Holton said Monday.

But protesters don't believe it.

"You all look disinterested!" Denver resident Cleo Dioletis shouted at the commissioners during public comment. "Why?  Because in my estimation, you are all paid off by the oil and gas companies. You couldn't give a damn less about us!"

The comments come as the commission received data from 176 oil and gas producers, which were required by the state to identify flowlines that are within 1,000 feet of buildings and conduct integrity tests in the wake of the Firestone explosion.

Producers were not required to map the flowlines, but commissioners may amend the rules on that in the future.

An abandoned flowline was severed when the Firestone home was built.  Anadarko Petroleum, which operates an oil and gas well near the home, had not detached the flowline from the well. As such, when the company reopened the well earlier this year, pre-refined methane saturated the ground around the home.

"Nobody wants to see that happen," Holton said. "It was a freak accident, and we don't want to see it happen again."

In the process of producers accounting for flowlines across the state in the last few months, commission director Matt Lepore said roughly 7,500 were either newly abandoned or already abandoned. It's unclear why.

Lepore said commission officials were able to personally witness about 10 percent of the integrity tests conducted by producers during testing.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the Firestone explosion.  Commission officials expect it to issue a report and findings early next year.