UPDATE #2: Colorado Public Radio’s Bente Birkeland:
Democrats don’t plan to increase the setback distance between oil and gas wells and homes, since voters rejected that idea. Still, some in the industry and many Republicans fear these new proposals could drive up costs for the energy industry and push them to invest outside of Colorado, where the cost of doing business could be cheaper.
Oil and gas representatives have not yet weighed in on the upcoming legislation. They’ve held meetings with top Democrats to offer their general thoughts but haven’t yet seen specifics. And for some Democrats who were swept into power last November, stricter oil and gas regulations are a top priority for this legislative session because they feel lawmakers have not updated the laws to match what’s happening on the ground.
UPDATE: Joint statement from Colorado House and Senate Democrats:
“Coloradans simply do not have confidence that the laws in place are sufficient to protect their health and safety. They are right, and they are looking to their leaders for change,” said [Senate] Majority Leader [Steve] Fenberg. “For too long, the legislature has stood in the way of common sense reforms that would keep communities safe, and protect the Colorado we love.Today, we are announcing change.”
“Right now, oil and gas laws in Colorado tilt heavily toward the industry. We are going to correct that tilt so that health, safety, and environment are no longer ignored by state agencies,” said [House] Speaker KC Becker. “This bill would also ensure that local governments have a greater ability to represent the interests of the people they serve.”
“The legislation we outlined today puts health and safety first and gives communities a meaningful seat at the table,” said Governor Jared Polis. “While we know this doesn’t solve all of the problems our communities face, it is a practical approach to finding a solution for many of our issues and providing more stability by updating our laws to reflect today’s realities.”
Erin Martinez, the survivor of a tragic gas explosion in Firestone that killed her brother and husband, urged for stronger regulation saying “the only way to make sure this never happens again is to learn from this tragedy and create safer regulations and guidelines that put human safety first.”
Democratic legislative leaders joined Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday to preview a comprehensive bill that would put public health and safety front and center when oil and gas development is considered.
“This the most sweeping oil and gas reform the state has ever seen, but at the same time it’s incredibly reasonable and common sense,” Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg said. “We haven’t really done anything since the ’50s.”
As the technology has advanced and companies’ ability to access oil and gas has broadened, communities and landowners have sued, tried to impose drilling bans and launched initiatives to change the law as rigs have moved closer to where residents live and work.
The press conference announcing this new legislative effort just wrapped up a few moments ago, and we’re awaiting details that we’ll update with shortly. The short version is that the bill grants local governments more control over oil and gas siting decisions within their boundaries, does away with the practice of “forced pooling” of mineral rights to force development where it’s not wanted, and also changes state law governing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) so that the body is no longer required to “foster,” meaning promote oil and gas development, to the detriment of other legitimate concerns like the environment and public health.
Importantly and to put to rest what seems to be an early opposition talking point, the legislation will not impose a universal greater setback between drilling and existing surface development in Colorado, which was the subject of last year’s Proposition 112.
We’ll update shortly with more coverage and statements on what everyone expects to be one of the central battles of this legislative session. After years of frustration in affected communities and political inaction as this longstanding conflict metastasized into last year’s twin battles over Proposition 112 and the energy industry’s extreme “takings” countermeasure Amendment 74, reforming the relationship between the fossil fuel industry and its regulatory authorities in Colorado is long overdue and a major priority for the Democratic grassroots.
But no one expects the industry to go quietly.