Colorado Lawmakers Set To Propose New Oil And Gas Regulations

Feb 28, 2019

Democratic lawmakers will introduce a bill soon that would give local governments in Colorado more control over oil and gas drilling operations.

The legislation from House Speaker KC Becker and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg would not increase the setbacks between oil wells and homes. But the lawmakers say it will give cities and counties the ability to increase those setbacks themselves.

Fenberg said disagreements between the oil and gas industry and local governments over land use issues have resulted in several lawsuits and the loss of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

He also said the current rules cause some families to fear the energy industry.

“Moms and dads are missing soccer games to instead attend county commission hearings to find out if the next well pad will be in their neighborhood or perhaps the next one over,” he said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

The state’s oil and gas regulations are outdated, he said, and don’t do enough to protect the public from the negative impacts of drilling.

“Our communities have been forced to bear the steep consequences, and this must change,” Fenberg said. “The oil and gas industry has evolved, but our laws have not.”

Dozens of people crammed into the west foyer of the state Capitol to listen to the press conference.

The event also featured emotional testimony from Erin Martinez, a survivor of a deadly home explosion in Firestone that was blamed on a leak from a nearby oil and gas well. The explosion killed her husband and brother.

Now, Martinez is calling for state regulations that put human safety first.

“I have no desire to destroy an industry,” she said. “However, with great tragedy should also come great change. Human life should come first.”

Some of the early reactions to the planned energy regulation bill focused on the lack of details that have been released.

Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, criticized lawmakers for not seeking the group’s input when the bill was being drafted.

“In my over 15 years of working with the Colorado state government, not having a thorough stakeholder process is unprecedented, especially for a bill that targets one industry but impacts every Coloradan,” she was quoted as saying in a statement. “We are deeply disappointed that House and Senate leadership do not appear to value the stakeholder process nor the importance of having all stakeholders at the table on one of the most consequential proposals in Colorado history.”

And Colorado Rising, the group behind the failed ballot measure that aimed to increase oil and gas setbacks, issued a statement saying it couldn’t comment on the bill because the details haven’t been released.

Fenberg said the legislation would be introduced “in the coming days.”

According to an outline of the proposed changes, the bill would also do the following:

-Clarify that the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is to regulate oil and gas activities, not foster the development of oil and gas as statute currently reads.

-Clarify that local governments can regulate oil and gas operations including land use, surface impacts, siting and nuisance.

-Establish a threshold requiring more than 50 percent of the mineral rights owners to consent to developing before “forced pooling occurs.”

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.