Hot Topic: Oil and Gas Legislation

Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, is spearheading several bills aimed at the oil and gas industry. One of those bills – HB 1341, passed the House yesterday and is on its way to the Senate. The bill changes the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Currently, the COGCC has five out of seven members who come from the oil and gas industry and the goal of the commission is to “promote the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.”

Although the commission additionally is suppose to prevent and mitigate adverse environmental impacts, critics have claimed that it has been the “fox guarding the henhouse” when it comes to protecting land owners and the environment.  HB 1341 proposes to increase the commission membership to nine, and the commission will have to include members who have backgrounds in environmental protection, wildlife and local government. Two members would be required to reside on the Western Slope, where most of the new drilling is occurring.

In a press release, Rep Curry said:

Oil and gas development in Colorado is growing rapidly. Changes must be made to the Commission membership to better protect the quality of life that we value here in Colorado.

Energy development can happen hand-in-hand with protection of other values such as our environment and public health. My bill widens the diversity on the Commission and refines the mission to better reflect perspectives of all Coloradans.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHB 1341 also clarifies the mission of the commission, requiring that oil and gas development be balanced with the ongoing protection of the environment, wildlife and citizens’ general health and welfare, according to Rep. Curry. In addition it would redefine “waste” in order to give the flexibility COGCC needs to consider other impacts associated with drilling.

Although many amendments were proposed, mostly to water-down the measure, two amendments were adopted during the House debate. The first will require the COGCC commission to submit a quarterly report to the General Assembly with information regarding complaints and the second would require that the commission consult with the Department of Public Health on rules regarding the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

As reported by Mike Saccone in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Rep. Cory Gardner, D-Yuma, who led Thursday’s war of words against the measure, said lawmakers were moving too quickly to push detrimental reforms.

Gardner, who has encouraged the governor to intervene in the legislative fray, said House Bill 1341, combined with the more than a half-dozen other major energy-reform bills moving through the Legislature, could destroy the state’s energy industry.

Gov. Bill Ritter may not exactly have a sympathetic ear to detractors of HB 1341 as indicated by his interview with Dennis Webb of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent about the issue:

Ritter’s administration has proposed changing the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to reduce its level of industry-related representation and include members focused on interests such as wildlife, public health and the environment.

…Ritter said his administration’s proposal also better balances the COGCC’s mission by having it treat oil and gas as a resource “and at the same time make sure we pay attention to air and water and land impacts.”

Ritter, a Democrat who was elected governor in November, said his proposal is a result of two years of input he received while touring the state and campaigning for governor.

“In that period I heard again and again and again how important it was for us to pay attention to impacts,” he said.

In the Senate, Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald noted to KJAX radio that she wants to study all the oil and gas bills coming out of the House. “I think they (the oil and gas industry) would like us to look at all the bills as a package. That’s not unreasonable.”

Rep. Curry’s bill is also going to meet with stiff resistance from Sen. Chris Romer, who was one of the few Democrats to join Republican lawmakers Tuesday in asking Gov. Bill Ritter to delay energy reform legislation, saying that it could affect oil and gas industry production. He refused to comment to KJAX about his stance.

Photo of a gas rig in the Rifle area with Roan Plateau in the background from the BLM website.

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Leslie Robinson

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