Colorado Senate Approves Oil And Gas Regulation Bill, But Be Ready For More Protests And Amendments

Originally published on March 14, 2019 3:45 pm

After days of fierce partisanship at the state Capitol, Democrats in the Colorado Senate advanced a bill Wednesday that will give local governments more control over oil and gas drilling operations.

But as the bill heads over to the House for more debate, there are signs it will undergo some more changes in the coming days.

"This bill is not perfect, I'll admit that," said bill sponsor Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, Wednesday morning before his proposal passed the Senate on a party-line vote. "But even with a divided vote, even with the politicization ... I want to assure every single member in this chamber you have my commitment to see it through, to keep working on this bill even when it's over in the other chamber."

Fenberg said he has heard from oil and gas workers who are scared about what the future holds under the new regulations, which would allow cities and counties to adopt setback rules that are stricter than state regulations.

"I've also heard the fears of local elected officials (who feel) they don't have the tools necessary to regulate the oil and gas industry," he said.

Republican senators said the new regulations will hurt local economies around the state by driving the energy industry from Colorado.

The heated debate over the oil and gas regulations follows years of lawsuits between cities and energy companies that disagree over how much power local governments should have in regulating the industry.

For example, an energy company called SG Interests sued commissioners in Gunnison County in 2011 after that county on the Western Slope adopted setback rules that were more strict than the state's.

Energy operators fear if local governments can adopt their own sets of rules, they will face a patchwork of regulations that will slow down the permitting process.

On the other hand, lawmakers who are behind the new oil and gas regulations are sharing stories of people who have been injured or killed by explosions blamed on oil and gas wells.

Fenberg has already amended the oil and gas regulation bill.

On Tuesday night, he decided to specify in the bill that any regulations local governments adopt, "will have to be necessary and reasonable for the purposes of protecting health and safety."

But he said he wasn’t going to specify what "necessary and reasonable" actually means in the legislation.

Fenberg's amendments led to him shaking hands with Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

“There are still concerns, but there has been progress made in an open and transparent way,” Holbert said.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Petroleum Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association are planning to protest the bill at events on Friday in Greeley and Grand Junction.

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