The Main Event: Oil and Gas Local Control Bill Announced Today

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

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.

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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.”

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We told you this was coming. As the Denver Post’s Judith Kohler reports:

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.

7 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. bullshit! says:

    The biggest bill of the year for me, and no I'm not a lobbyist.

    Get it done Dems!

  2. Pseudonymous says:

    Really need to see the bill to know what effects the legislation will have.

    If local governments are allowed to actually do zoning, finally, we're going to see a good chunk of intracity, intercity, and city-county battles over siting oil & gas– based on the willingness of elected officials to fuck their citizens and governments to fuck each other.  We could also see some proactive annexation, which will start all kinds of turf wars.

    As far as the forced pooling, it's not clear to me if the pool can be built by the majority mineral owner in the unit; the majority of mineral owners in the unit; or the majority of owners, surface and mineral, in the unit.  Each of these has profoundly different implications.

  3. Jeffco Republicans are already out saying Democrats are ignoring the 112 vote. The devil on this bill will be in the details.

  4. Duke Cox says:

    There are a number of people whose opinion I will seek before passing judgement on the bill. At first glance, I'm thinking they may wish they had supported 112. From what I understand, the three major items could really be effective in reining in some of the freebies and stopping some of the industries' heavy -handed behavior. 

    If it does not repeal the Ad Valorem tax credit, that should be added by amendment.

  5. mamajama55 says:

    Here's the Colorado Health and Safety First Bill (also known as the Omnibus Bill 19-181), via League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC).

    To me, it looks like a decent set of first steps towards protecting the health of people living near oil and gas extraction operations. 

    1) it takes away the COGCC industry group's prerogative to decide which sites get "local control" over setbacks, etc. Section 4 also strengthens local control.

    2) Puts in place rules requiring monitoring of pollution and methane emissions. These rules existed, but were largely ignored due to lack of funding of regulatory agencies.

    3) Takes away the mission of existing Oil and Gas Conservation Act to "foster", ie. encourage and overlook safety transgressions of oil and gas development.

    4) It also restores balance to the regulatory Commission, reducing industry reps to 1 instead of the current 3.

    5) Section 5 reaffirms that agencies that protect public health and the environment can overrule oil and gas siting (someone more expert than me, which is most people, should confirm that that's what section 10 says)

    So I'm kind of pleased with this bill so far. I'm sure that it will be targeted with all kinds of over-the-top histrionics, including on this blog, from those who insist that this will be DOOM! for the oil and gas industry and is, in fact, a sinister librul conspiracy to take existing mineral rights. But I'm going to write my reps and tell them that I support the "Omnibus bill".19-181.

    So – game on.

     

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