Colson: Trump’s distractions not the only issue | AspenTimes.com

Colson: Trump’s distractions not the only issue

John Colson
Hit & Run

In a recent column I noted that Colorado's oil and gas industry got a black eye, of sorts, when a home in the little community of Firestone exploded April 17, killing two men working on a water-heater installation in the basement and badly burning the wife of one of the men.

Despite earlier doubts, it ultimately turned out that the cause of the explosion was an accumulation of natural gas under the house, which had seeped from an uncapped natural-gas line attached to a well drilled in 1993, located less than 200 feet from the home.

The owner of that gas line, Anadarko Petroleum, has since shut down thousands of similar pipelines around the state for inspection, and we're still waiting to learn the final outcome of the tragedy.

In the meantime, other companies have also inspected and, in many cases, shut down gas facilities located near residential areas, and people all around Colorado are wondering about the safety of having natural gas-drilling rigs, wells, pipelines and other facilities anywhere near homes, schools, businesses, etc.

I got some blowback for that column, published May 2. One man suggested I was unfairly frightening readers before the facts were known, though I made it clear that I was waiting to learn the cause before making any definitive statements about it.

Well, the facts are now known, and they are as follows: Anadarko, which capped that well some time ago, failed to close off at least one line, and it was that line that bled gas into the nearby ground and ultimately destroyed the house, killing the men.

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I haven't heard any more from the guy who accused me of unnecessarily frightening people with my words.

But the incident and the subsequent investigations have prompted me to wonder, for the umpteenth time, about the hazards represented by untrammeled oil and gas exploration in Colorado and around the nation.

And unacceptably untrammeled it is, despite claims by the industry and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that our state has the most stringent regulations governing oil and gas in the United States.

All I can say is, nuts to that. After covering the industry for several years in Garfield County and observing the level of control exercised over that industry by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, I came to the conclusion that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is too much in the pocket of the industry and is not concerned enough about the safety of nearby residents or the environment.

I stand by that conclusion, and am further worried that President Donald Trump's administration is likely to do all it can to loosen what little regulation and control we have in place over a range of industries.

In fact, "worried" is not a strong enough term since Trump and his Cabinet appointees already have begun to dismantle an array of environmental protections put in place over the past several decades, but most particularly any restrictions and controls enacted under the previous administration, under former President Barack Obama.

While Trump distracts us, scares us and entertains us with his outlandish behavior, his executive orders and his lies regarding just about everything of consequence, his administration has been very busy already in its rush to emasculate the Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental and environmental watchdog organizations, not to mention a determination to dismantle everything from federal land-management policies and priorities to the social-welfare safety net so painfully constructed over the previous decades.

It is the distraction that is the problem I'm thinking about today — the fact that Trump seems to take delight in outrageous acts and pronouncements, which pull our attention from, for instance, his possibly illegal machinations against the government he is supposed to be overseeing.

Whether this is deliberate (the scariest thought) or due to simple ignorance and narcissism, he has shown himself very able at distracting our attention from everything else he and his minions are doing to undermine our democracy, loot the federal treasury for the benefit of the very wealthy and give away federal lands, minerals and other resources to be exploited and destroyed by corporate plunderers.

For instance, he has ordered his new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to analyze roughly 40 national monuments established by previous presidents, apparently with an eye toward handing these vast holdings over to his industry friends for short-term but highly profitable exploitation.

Never mind that once these monuments have been despoiled we will have essentially lost them forever, and as a nation will be that much the poorer for it.

But in league with that giveaway, Trump also is promising to relax oversight of the extractive industries, a move that presumably will include the drilling and fracking work of the natural gas companies.

What will that mean for the safeguarding of citizens who happen to live within a stone's throw of a well, or a compressor station, or a junction of pipelines?

What will it mean in terms of making sure companies, such as Anadarko, are mindful of the potentially devastating consequences of sloppy and inattentive work to close off pipelines, cap wells and otherwise deal with equipment that might leave gas seeping into the ground under homes and schools?

I know we need oil and gas to keep the economy running, at least in the short term, but I also know that the drilling and the fracking and the piping needs to be done much more carefully than it has in the past.

And I know that Trump, Pruitt and their cronies really don't care about all that.

They listen to their political funders and their wealthy industrial friends, whose main interest is in profits, not people, and act accordingly.

It is our job, the task of the American public, to not allow ourselves to be distracted, to not permit Trump to achieve the type of political sleight-of-hand that will rob us of our heritage, our lives, and possibly even our democracy.

Email at jbcolson51@gmail.com.

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