Governor Polis signs sweeping oil and gas regulation bill

By Amber McIver-Traywick

The Surveyor

On Tuesday, April 16 Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the sweeping, and controversial Senate Bill 181 into law. The bill drastically changes the way the state regulates oil and gas and gives local governments more control.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, (D) Boulder, and Senator Mike Foote, (D) Boulder, stood with the governor during the signing, as were Reps. KC Becker, (D) Boulder, and Yadira Caraveo, (D) Denver

The bill, called the “Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations” mandates that state regulators emphasize public safety over promoting the oil and gas industry and allows local governments to regulate the location of wells. This will include a change in the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) that controls permitting for oil and gas sites across the state, the members of which will now be a full-time board appointed by the governor. The COGCC’s mission, within the text of the bill, would change to “regulate oil and gas activities” and no longer “foster the development of oil and gas.”

Supporters of the bill have said that it will put resident’s health, safety, and the environment first over the oil and gas industries profits. Opponents of the bill say the measures will eventually force oil and gas operations out of the state costing billions of dollars in economic revenues and putting thousands of industry jobs at risk.

Prior to signing the bill Polis said he sees the law as bringing an end to the oil and gas wars in the state and that neither environmental groups or the oil and gas industry got everything they wanted, he continued by saying, “But with the best efforts of the speaker, the majority leader, and others, they’ve crafted a pretty darn good bill for Colorado’s future.”

Several significant changes were made to the bill to address oil and gas industry representatives’ concerns including adding more specific language that set some guardrails to help prevent unwarranted setbacks, delays or de facto bans on wells at the local level. Prior to the bill being signed local governments regulations were superseded by those at the state level. Now, local governments across the state, including city councils and county commissioners will have the authority to regulate the location, zoning, noise limitations and enforcement of drilling sites.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association estimates that the industry contributes nearly $32 billion annually to Colorado’s economy and provides more than 89,000 jobs. Within those estimates, the group also says around $1 billion in taxes are paid to the state as well that help to fund schools and emergency services.

Colorado GOP Chairman Ken Buck released a statement in response to the passage of the bill, “SB 181 is simply the first wave of the Green New Deal and a transparent effort by Democrats to shut down Colorado’s energy industry. Despite voters overwhelmingly rejecting a defacto ban on energy development last November, Democrats rammed this legislation through without a single Republican vote in either chamber.”

Although much less sweeping than SB 181, last November, Coloradans voted against Proposition 112 which would have increased oil & gas setback regulations. Those against the proposition felt it would be harmful to the state’s economy and the oil and gas industry.

In a statement from Kelly Nordini the Executive Director of Conservation Colorado, an environmentalist group that supported both Proposition 112 and SB 181, said of the passing of the bill, “Today marks a new chapter in Colorado’s history. For the first time ever, our state is on track to put the health and safety of workers and residents, and our environment ahead of oil and gas industry profits. This policy is nearly a decade in the making, and we applaud our elected leaders who fought for so long to make it a reality.”

In a response posted on their website, the Colorado Petroleum council said, “While Senate Bill 181 remains deeply flawed, Governor Polis and state officials have pledged to work with industry to create a reasonable regulatory framework that works for all Coloradans, and we are committed to that process.”

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