Colorado Senate rejects GOP drill bill to preclude local authority over oil, gas

Colorado’s Democrat-controlled Senate rejected a predominately Republican attempt Thursday to roll back the rights of cities and counties to regulate oil and gas drilling in their own back yards.

Senate Bill 88 would have bestowed omnipotent oversight of the industry to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission and precluded cities and counties from making their own rules on how drillers should behave on their lands. The Senate Local Government Committee defeated the bill 4-1.

A few dozen denizens from the Front Range showed up to oppose the proposed legislation.

Drilling in suburbia is becoming a more common sight in Colorado.

“[The bill] would have afforded the industry rights superior to the inalienable rights for our children to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live in a healthy environment,” said Jen Palazzolo of Erie. “It is our right to be in control of operations in our communities. We are pleased to see that the bill has failed.”

Backers of the bill argued that local regulations will drive up expenses and deter drillers from coming to Colorado. Republicans and even some Democrats, notably Gov. John Hickenlooper, contend the state should have final say on oil and gas drilling rules to avoid confusing, patchwork regulations.

Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, sponsored Senate Bill 88.

How to rein in and coexist with the oil and gas industry is becoming a growing challenge for many residents in Colorado. Drills aren’t just spinning through the earth in the state’s remote, rugged regions anymore. Increasingly, they are boring holes in suburbia to get their fossil fuel fix.

Industry’s preferred method of extracting natural gas and oil through the flushing of water, sand and chemicals into the earth — known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — is causing widespread concern. Residents, environmentalists and lawmakers worry fracking could contaminate water.

“From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” said Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.”

U.S. natural gas production in 2011 reached its highest level, 5.3 million cubic feet, since the Bureau of Land Management started tracking it in 1984. In Colorado, there are 4,380,275 acres of BLM land leased for drilling but just 1,467,839 acres, or about 33.5 percent, are in production.

The trouncing of Senate Bill 88 is the latest oil and gas measure to sputter in the state legislature.

Democrats introduced a bill that would have required hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells to be set back at least 1,000 feet from any school or residence. But a legislative committee defeated the setback bill along with a bill that would require closed-loop tank systems in place of open fluid pits.

CORRECTION: In the original publishing of this story, it was mistakenly reported that outgoing Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission Director David Neslin favored Senate Bill 88. Before the bill was introduced, Neslin told the Colorado Independent: “The state has decades of experience regulating [oil and gas] activity. Local governments have little such experience.” But he made that comment in reference to another bill. A spokesman clarified Neslin did not support Senate Bill 88.

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About the Author

Troy Hooper

Troy Hooper covers environmental policy for the American Independent News Network. His work has been published in The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Huffington Post, San Francisco Weekly, Playboy, New York Post, People and dozens of other publications. Hooper has covered the Winter Olympics in Italy, an extreme ski camp in South America and gone behind the scenes with Hunter S. Thompson on election night in 2004. Born and raised in Boulder, Hooper has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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