DENVER • After weeks of discussion and a preview Thursday by Gov. Jared Polis, Democrats have proposed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s oil and gas industry regulations that would give local communities more control.
Senate Bill 181 was introduced Friday by Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and co-sponsored in the House by Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. It will be heard before the chamber’s Transportation and Energy Committee on Tuesday.
Fenberg and Becker shared a podium Thursday with Gov. Jared Polis, among others, announcing the legislation was near and urging support for it.
The bill — titled Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations — seeks to tighten regulation of the industry, prioritizing health and safety over business development, and hand control of oil and gas permits over to local governments rather than the state.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is charged with fostering oil and gas development in the state as its top priority. Under the new measure, the commission would regulate the industry in a way that protects “public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”
The bill would also ask the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to require oil and gas operators to install equipment monitoring emissions at their facilities “to monitor for hazardous air pollutants” including “methane and volatile organic compounds” in an effort to minimize harmful releases.
In addition, local governments would be afforded the ability to regulate incoming oil and gas permits. This means those governments could inspect the industry’s operations, and impose fines, for leaks, spills and emissions.
The bill also would:
• Allow counties to regulate noise from oil and gas operations.
• Change the requirement that the nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have three members with “substantial experience in the oil and gas industry” to just one member with that experience.
• Specify that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must have one member with “training or substantial experience” in wildlife protection, one with a background in environmental protection,” one with a background in soil conservation or reclamation, one who is “an active agricultural producer or a royalty owner” and one with a public health background. The current rule is for one member with “training or experience in environmental or wildlife protection.”
The 27-page omnibus bill is certain to see pushback from the industry. Oil and gas leaders lambasted the Democrats after Thursday’s news conference, saying they had not properly partnered with them to draft the legislation and warning of strong economic consequences across the state if businesses are hampered.
Tracee Bentley, the outgoing executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council expressed her disappointment Thursday that “one of the most consequential proposals in Colorado history” did not include an appropriate stakeholder process.
Fenberg had said industry leaders and environmental activists were consulted in the drafting process, though neither side was given carte blanche to write the bill.
“News flash,” Fenberg tweeted to Bentley and others Friday. “Special interests don’t write bills, legislators do. I understand it might be difficult for the industry to no longer be able to write their own laws. But that’s not how things work in Colorado anymore.”
As opposition streamed in, Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, who supports the measure, also tweeted a response to statements claiming the bill would betray voters and devastate the economy.
“It’s all so predictable but still unfortunate. The breathless hyperbole from the industry and its supporters has already started ...,” Foote said.
The opposition gained steam after the bill was published.
“There’s a reason they dumped this bill late on a Friday with no stakeholder process, no conversation, no dialogue,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “It looks like a backdoor attempt to override the will of the voters. The industry is ready to have a conversation and strengthen our rules, but this bill is extreme.”
Voters shot down Proposition 112 in November, which would have increased the buffer zone between buildings and new oil and gas operations to 2,500 feet from the current 500 feet around homes and 1,000 feet around schools.
The new bill does not include language increasing those buffer zones, but Fenberg said Thursday local governments could impose t setback rules under the measure.
Polis and others said Thursday that the bill is decades overdue. It’s meant to update Colorado’s laws, which haven’t kept pace with the oil and gas industry’s technological advancements over the years.