Fracking Fracas: The Bill Is Coming

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

Bente Birkeland and Grace Hood at Colorado Public Radio offer another preview of the big fight on the near horizon in the Colorado General Assembly–meaningfully tightening regulations on the oil and gas industry after years of intra-Democratic gridlock on the issue under the previous administration:

All parties in the debate were locked in a holding pattern under former Gov. John Hickenlooper, but Gov. Jared Polis is expected to take a different approach. Some Democrats want 2019 to be the year that significantly changes the regulation of oil and gas companies.

There’s more than activists or oil and gas companies with their eyes on the state capitol. The Front Range cities of Lafayette, Superior and Erie have all enacted drilling moratoriums to wait and see what rules the legislature adopts in 2019…

Democrats will have a difficult needle to thread on oil and gas issues, that’s why they say they’re taking their time before unveiling legislation.

“Our bills now have a fighting chance, we have to make sure that we do it right,” said Democratic Sen. Mike Foote of Lafayette. He has pushed for tougher regulations in previous years, and is one of the handful of lawmakers involved in negotiations this session. “In the past, the oil and gas bills that I introduced, were introduced for a specific reason. I thought that they faced uphill battles, and in fact they did, but we still had to push the issue forward.”

CPR reports that the final legislation is coming together now, and is expected to take the form of one large bill covering a variety of subjects from giving local communities more direct control in drilling decisions to legislatively undoing the recent Colorado Supreme Court decision that controversially declared public health and safety subordinate to the “fostering” of oil and gas resource development as prescribed by existing law.

The extremely high stakes in this debate, coupled with the changed political climate at the state capitol, makes this issue by orders of magnitude the biggest issue of the 2019 legislative session that nobody is talking about in public yet. Whatever the final form this bill takes, we fully expect Republicans and the oil and gas industry to freak out as hard as they possibly can, firing off the usual warnings of a million billion jobs lost and the entire population of Colorado freezing to death.

Somewhere between the industry’s absurd hyperbole and the very real status quo of the state valuing promotion of an industry over public health, you’ll find the legislative sweet spot Democrats need to land on. And as much as the oil and gas industry wants to kill this whole effort, base Democrats and independent voters who are passionate about energy policy and climate change–and who swept Democrats into power last year–expect results.

18 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Pseudonymous says:

    It will be interesting to see what comes out of this process in terms of legislation.  It will be interesting to see where Democrats fall on it as well.  Looking forward to the conversations to come.

  2. JohnInDenver says:

    "one size fits all" proposals don't make sense to me, whether the limit is 500 feet or 2500 feet. Prevailing winds, intervening geography and a host of other conditions are reason enough for variation, even before considering the variable feelings of people involved.

    Perhaps there should be a more flexible requirement — that the drillers and well operators provide insurance for health consequences to those within certain distances (a "market based" determination).  Or let those within a certain distance demand arbitration of immediate impacts on quality of life and long term health risks, where "the arbitrator must choose only between the two options, and cannot split the difference or select an alternative position."

    • The CPR story indicated that fixed setbacks were not on the table because the voters had already rejected them. Priorities are likely to be on changing the commission's mandate to add health and safety and de-emphasize development, as well as some level of local input.

  3. Gilpin Guy says:

    Ugh.  I was hoping the Dems would focus on healthcare and education before picking this fight.  It's going to burn a lot of political capital and everyone is going to be as unhappy afterwards as they are now.

    • Conserv. Head Banger says:

      I agree with GG. Stuff like this bill could be a ticket for Republican recovery in next year's election.

      • DENependent says:

        I disagree. The smart political move is to deal with controversial things this year, either voting for them or killing them, and feel good measures in 2020.

        Because they won their tent is larger so Democrats are going to upset some of their voters regardless of if they kill new regulation or pass it.

    • Diogenesdemar says:

      Hopefully the leadership will understand their need to have a productive session and schedule those priorities first?? . . . 

      But, I who knows, moderation is so last millennium?!

      • Gilpin Guy says:

        Being a Red Zone kind of a guy, my first priority would be to contract with those super tankers for aerial combat over western wildfire skies.  They can drop about eight times the water of a conventional tanker and air assaults are key to fighting Climate Changed wildfires today.  My other priority at the top of the list would be fire mitigation funding to protect the key watersheds in our state.  Simple reason why it should be at the top.  No water.  No civilization.  That's what I would work on before pissing everyone off with these nasty fights.

    • They're walking and chewing gum at the same time. This isn't either/or with one person playing the game.

      • Gilpin Guy says:

        You are such an optimist.  The world is filled with beautiful flowers and birds and Dems are poised to show how good government works with complex issues.  I feel jaded and cynical next to your sunny outlook on this.

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        Oh, that’s just great . . .

        What do you think is going to happen now, when Joan Poston “um, scientist” hears that Democrats at the Capitol are ambulating and masticating together at the same time???

    • MADCO says:

      Yeah- it's hard. So it should be kicked down the road.

      • Gilpin Guy says:

        What makes it the most important item on the agenda that it JUST HAS TO BE ADDRESSED NOW?

        • Duke Cox says:

          There is no time better than right now.

          If you live in the gas patch, which I do, you will see that activity has ramped up like crazy in the past three months. The Oily Boyz have been getting away with fraud, intimidation, and downright theft for a long time and it cannot be stopped soon enough.

          Perhaps part of the bill is repealing the ad valorem tax credit…that would mean an extra $300,000,000 per year for education..roads…mental health…whatever.

          When faced with an adversary possessing the wealth and power of the oil and gas industry, you do not hesitate. Every day you give them to prepare their defenses and undermine your coalition is a day you will lose to them.

          The last time the Democrats had this much power, Bill Ritter was the governor and Andrew Romanoff was Speaker of the House. We…a coalition of Coloradans that had been built over many years and led by his DNR chief, Harris Sherman, passed 3 bills that could have really made a difference. Sadly, Ritter was so savagely attacked by O&G, he did not stay to see to the actual implementation of those rules. 

          John Hickenlooper, who became the evil Dr. Frackenlooper when he drank the magic fluid, proceeded to see to it those reforms were never actually implemented. Colorado did enact some pretty good regulations, but a COGCC without Tresi Houpt or Richard Alward ain't quite the same…and is still FAR too friendly with the extractors of Colorados mineral wealth.

          To beat the Oily Boyz, you come out of the gate with your big boy pants on, ready to rumble….and you don't wait around for them to call in reinforcements.

          Short answer…more revenue.

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