2019 #COleg: SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations) is on it’s way to Governor Polis’ desk

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

The new rules would give local governments more tools to regulate where wells go. It would also make health and safety a top priority for state regulators.

The bill does include more than a half dozen amendments, some of which were requested by the state’s oil and gas industry in the final days before the legislature passed it.

Democratic sponsor Steve Fenberg of Boulder said it’s “in the best interest of the communities impacted by oil and gas extraction as well as the communities that have industry that supports their economies to accept these amendments,” and at the same time move forward with health and safety protections.

Opposition from Republicans and industry groups has been fierce. The Colorado Petroleum Council voiced their support for the amendments but remains opposed to the bill. Some opponents, like Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, have filed statewide ballot issue paperwork in an effort to repeal the new oil and gas regulations.

One adopted amendment request by the industry includes changes to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Currently, the state regulator is a volunteer or part-time job. The industry wants the role professionalized and it will become a full-time position under the COGCC.

Another industry-requested amendment specifies that efforts to protect both health and environment at the state and local level must be to “the extent necessary and reasonable.” That was a disappointment for the environmental group Colorado Rising, which labeled the amendment as a “loophole.” In the last election, Colorado Rising advocated for the failed Proposition 112 ballot measure that sought a 2,500-foot setback between energy development and homes and schools.

Most environmental groups, however, praised the passage of the oil and gas reform bill.

A final signature by the governor on SB 19-181 will be the first of many steps to completely implement the bill. It’s expected to launch a half dozen rulemakings on such matters as flowline regulations and methane controls. Those efforts will take months, even years, for the state to fully adopt.

From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The Senate voted 19-16 — all Democrats said “yes” and all Republicans said “no” — for Senate Bill 19-181, a repeat of the party-line votes through most of the bill’s journey.

The bill makes protecting public health and safety and the environment a priority when considering oil and gas projects. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, would no longer be charged with fostering development.

It also allows cities and counties to regulate oil and gas development under their planning and land-use powers, something communities have requested as drilling has increased in and near the growing cities and counties north and east of Denver…

Polis “is thrilled to see” the bill pass, according to a statement from his office. He thanked the sponsors and Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother died in 2017 when odorless gas from an uncapped flow line that was attached to a well seeped into the family’s home in Firestone.

Martinez, who was severely injured, spoke to the media and testified in support of the bill.

Since the bill was introduced March 1, hundreds of people spoke for and against it during Senate and House committee hearings. The oil and gas industry and its supporters, including several business organizations and elected officials from energy-producing areas, called on lawmakers to slow the bill down to give people more time to weigh in.

The Colorado Petroleum Council aired TV ads saying a handful of politicians were trying to pass the bill “in the middle of the night to shut down energy production in Colorado.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said many of the amendments approved through six committee hearings and debate in the House and Senate were in response to the industry’s concerns…

Language was changed in the House to try to allay the industry’s fears that cities and counties will pass regulations leading to drilling bans or drastically slowing growth in one of the state’s largest industries. Fenberg and House Speaker KC Becker, another of the bill’s prime sponsors, have said nothing in the bill would allow bans and that regulations need to be rational and fair. Amendments revising some of the bill’s language were aimed at making that clear, Fenberg said.

The revised language says state and local regulations must be reasonable and necessary. An earlier version of the bill said the state couldn’t act “arbitrarily or capriciously” when regulating oil and gas, which is considered a higher legal hurdle if the regulations are challenged…

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney said Wednesday they will try to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to annul the changes and create a nonpartisan state regulatory body…

The legislation changes the commission from a part-time, volunteer body to a full-time, professional one. The amendment reduces the number of members to seven from nine, five of whom will be appointed by the governor. The heads of the state health and natural resource departments will be nonvoting members.

If Polis signs the bill into law, a lot more work lies ahead. The state oil and gas commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will have to write rules to implement the law, including new air-quality regulations, new rules for monitoring well flow lines and pipelines and new financial requirements to ensure there is enough money to take care of inactive and abandoned wells…

Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, the failed ballot measure on bigger well setbacks, has been critical of amendments it views as “major concessions” to the industry. Development of the rules will be key, spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster said in a statement.

Several conservation and community groups with members along the Front Range and in western Colorado said the bill’s approval gives the public a much-needed voice and will better protect public health and safety.

“Grand Valley Citizens Alliance members past and present have been working on health and safety issues in Garfield County’s gas patch for over 20 years,” Leslie Robinson, the group’s chairwoman, said in a statement. “We want to thank both House and Senate legislators who made our vision reality — that people will finally have an equal voice about oil and gas development in their neighborhoods.”

Fears about drilling’s impacts have intensified as development has increased and moved closer to homes, schools and public places. The 2017 house explosion in Firestone galvanized the push for tougher regulations after investigators said the blast was caused by a leaking flow line…

One of the bill’s major provisions deals with forced pooling, which allows a company to drill oil and gas if just one of the mineral owners in an area agrees. A House amendment says at least 45 percent of the mineral owners must agree before a company can drill, lowering the bill’s original threshold from a majority.

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