Oil and Gas Overhaul

Frank Deshane of Brighton takes part in a rally outside the state Capitol in Denver on March 5, 2019, in opposition of a bill to overhaul the state's oil and gas regulations.

A bill to revamp how Colorado regulates the fossil-fuels industry has advanced through Senate committees and will be taken up by the full Senate in coming days.

Senate Bill 181 was approved Friday by the Senate Appropriations Committee in a 6-4 vote, after passing the Senate's finance and transportation-energy panels earlier in the week on party-line votes, with majority Democrats in favor.

The measure is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg and House Speaker KC Becker, both Boulder Democrats.

“We are continuing to work with stakeholders on amendments that will improve the bill, and I look forward to future debate,” Fenberg said Friday in a statement.

Under the bill, local governments could inspect oil and gas operations and impose fines for leaks, spills and emissions. Local governments can also adopt stricter regulations for oil and gas drilling and siting.

The legislation also would mandate that those who hold at least 50 percent of mineral rights interests in a common area (known as forced pooling) must consent to oil and gas drilling.

And the bill would redefine the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to place public health, safety and the environment above fostering or supporting the industry, which is the group’s current mission. The commission's makeup would change, dropping two industry experts and adding an environmental specialist and a public health expert.

Supporters say the changes are needed to make the energy industry safer and that new regulations will be reasonable. Critics say the measure amounts to a moratorium on oil and gas development across much of the state, hurting Colorado's economy.

During Thursday's hearing by the Senate Finance Committee, witnesses addressed the fiscal impact of the legislation. Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer claimed the bill would cause drops in property taxes that fund local schools.

However, Fenberg pointed out that it's likely only Boulder and Broomfield counties would take advantage of the ability to change local regulations around oil and gas. Counties friendly to oil and gas extraction — Weld County has the largest number of drilling sites in the state  would not have to make any changes to their local regulations, he said.

The bill currently is set for Senate floor work on Tuesday.

Marianne Goodland and Conrad Swanson contributed to this report.


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