Oil Pump and Longs Peak, Colorado

A pump jack with Longs Peak in the distance.

Colorado’s Senate approved an omnibus bill proposing a sweeping overhaul of the state’s oil and gas industry for the third and final time Wednesday, avoiding yet another marathon debate.

The party-line vote to approve Senate Bill 181 came after less than an hour of debate, a short discussion compared with the more than six hours of debate Tuesday night and a 12-hour committee session on the topic last week.

Now the measure will be passed to the House for a discussion in committee and, if it’s approved there, a floor vote.

The bill — co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Fenberg and Rep. KC Becker, both Boulder Democrats — seeks to allow local governments to inspect industry operations and levy fines for leaks, spills and emissions. Those governments also could adopt stricter rules for new oil and gas developments.

In addition, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would have to prioritize public health and safety and the environment. Its main focus now is to foster the industry.

Familiar arguments against the proposal began quickly Wednesday with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, calling the bill terrible and others warning of the economic risk tied to tighter industry regulation.

In short, the bill would create uncertainty across the industry, Sonnenberg said, which would discourage new business from coming into the state.

“Any smart businessman is not going to invest in a community, in a state, if there is uncertainty,” Sonnenberg said.

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Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, elaborated on that point.

“A little bit more regulation makes a big difference if you’re a gas producer in the west. It means that you won’t drill new wells,” Rankin said. “Whether or not you believe that’s a reality, perception is true. And we all believe, those of us who watch the industry in the West, that we will have essentially no new drilling and production will tail off very quickly.”

Although they opposed the bill, several other Republicans praised Fenberg for his willingness to amend the measure, tightening language and clarifying details.

Fenberg acknowledged the bill’s imperfections and said work remains.

“We have a long road in front of us,” Fenberg told fellow senators. “You have my commitment to address any unintended consequences that come from this bill. If that means future legislation next year to fix that, you have my word that I want to work with you to do that.”

The bill’s passing sparked mixed reaction.

In a release, Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, thanked the Senate for prioritizing health, safety and the environment over profits.

“This bill is nearly a decade in the making,” Nordini said. “We urge the House to act swiftly to pass these common-sense reforms, and send them to Governor Polis to sign so we can put Coloradans’ health and safety first.”

Representatives of the Colorado Sierra Club, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans and Western Colorado Alliance, among others, echoed that sentiment.

But a joint statement between the Colorado Petroleum Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association walked the other side of that line, decrying the partisan nature of recent debates.

“We are grateful to the senators who stood up in opposition to Senate Bill 181, a bill that could damage Colorado’s economy for years to come,” the statement said.

“We will continue to work with any lawmakers who are willing to listen to the truth about Senate Bill 181,” it continued. “Our state deserves better than what we have witnessed in the Senate in recent days.”

Fenberg said the bill likely will be heard in a House committee in about a week. Becker was not available for comment.

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