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You have questions, we know how to find the answers. Curious Colorado is a series where we turn the editorial tables on our listeners by asking what they want to know about the events, stories and topics that affect Colorado.

Curious Colorado: What Senate Bill 181 Does - And Doesn't Do

Oil and gas
Matt Bloom

The Colorado House passed a major overhaul of oil and gas regulations in a final hearing Friday morning, sending the legislation back to the full Senate one last time to approve amendments.

Lawmakers voted 36-28 to approve Senate Bill 19-181. One House member was absent.


The oil and gas industry has widely criticized the legislation, pointing to uncertainty around its economic impacts. Its supporters say new oil and gas laws are necessary in order to better protect the health safety of Colorado’s growing population, specifically along the Front Range.

We asked you through KUNC’s Curious Colorado what questions you have about the bill. We compiled answers here to help clear things up:

KUNC Staff: What does ‘local control’ mean?

Local control is one of the most contentious parts of this bill. It refers to what authority cities and counties have over oil and gas development within their jurisdiction. Here’s how the bill’s sponsors summarize the changes:

“Section 4 clarifies that local governments have land use authority to regulate the siting of oil and gas locations to minimize adverse impacts to public safety, health, welfare, and the environment and to regulate land use and surface impacts, including the ability to inspect oil and gas facilities; impose fines for leaks, spills, and emissions; and impose fees on operators or owners to cover the reasonably foreseeable direct and indirect costs of permitting and regulation and the costs of any monitoring and inspection program necessary to address the impacts of development and enforce local governmental requirements.”

In a nutshell, under SB 181, cities and counties would have more control over where oil and gas companies can drill. They could, for example, choose to impose local setback rules for new wells. They can also slap operators with more fines.

Some of the sources KUNC has spoken to say permitting could stall while local governments develop new rules around oil and gas development — which could take weeks, months or even years.

KUNC Staff: How does this change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission?

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is the state board that approves drilling permits and other regulations on the industry. It’s been around for decades. Nine members sit on the commission.

Prior to SB 181, its mission statement was as follows:

The COGCC is charged with fostering the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including the environment and wildlife resources.

The bill removes “fostering” from that mission and replaces it with “regulating.” The change means the prioritization of public health and safety is literally written into the COGCC’s mission.

The bill also reduces the number of industry members to one — down from three. It also requires one member with training in wildlife protection, one with environmental protection and one with soil conservation experience.

Edward Arnold, via Facebook: Is there going to end up being a de facto moratorium on drilling while the rules are changed?

If you ask the Colorado Petroleum Council, yes. Since the bill tasks local governments with crafting new rules around oil and gas development, permitting could come to halt during that time.

Adams County commissioners imposed a temporary moratorium last week while new rules are drafted.

It’s important to note that the bill doesn’t mean cities and counties have to write new rules around oil and gas development. Some might choose not to.

Colby Edgington, via Facebook: What is it going to do to our jobs and economy?

The short — and unsatisfying — answer is that it's unclear.

The University of Colorado Leeds School of Business estimates about 30,000 people are directly employed by the oil and gas industry in Colorado.

Other studies — that are mainly funded by industry groups — say tens of thousands more jobs are indirectly supported by development.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association says that tougher forced pooling laws and increased setbacks could slow new development in certain parts of the state, meaning job growth could slow as well.

It’s important to note that most new oil and gas regulations, including SB 181, do not impact existing wells or oil and gas development.

Anonymous, Fort Collins: Does SB 181 call for monitoring the air? What air pollutants result from oil and gas drilling?

Yes, it does.

The bill "directs the state's air quality control commission to review its leak detection and repair rules and to adopt rules to minimize emissions of methane and other hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and oxides of nitrogen."

Here's how the Environmental Protection Agency defines VOCs:

"Volatile organic compounds (VOC) means any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions, except those designated by EPA as having negligible photochemical reactivity."

SB 181 also rewrites state law to clarify the COGCC does not have authority over the air quality control commission to regulate air pollution associated with oil and gas operations.

On the subject of air pollutants, a report from the American Geosciences Institute states regions with oil and gas production may have higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can create harmful conditions in the atmosphere.

Methane is a greenhouse gas emitted during the production process. However, Colorado is known for having tough standards around emissions. According to the EPA and Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, our methane emissions have declined even as oil and gas has ramped up production.

Send us your questions at Curious Colorado:

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
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