On the Road with Gov. Ritter, Part II

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Note: Road construction and a torrential downpour from a weather front moving in didn’t deter the Gov. Ritter caravan from arriving on time in Glenwood Springs. Maybe the State Patrol helped a little, too. For the commoners and reporters, it was a push to make it from Frisco to Glenwood on schedule.

A packed house in the Garfield County Commissioner meeting room greeted the governor and other legislators for another historic round of bill signing. Ritter opened with a reminiscence of his earlier trips through the Western Slope during his campaign and how problems with oil and gas impacts came up time and time again. Therefore, he was pleased to be signing several bills that addressed those impacts.Rep. Kathleen Curry, Rep. Bernie Buescher and Sen. Josh Penry worked on HB 1139 that doubled severance tax payments to counties from 15% to 30%. Curry said although the state hasn’t quantified all the costs associated with drilling, this bill will allow more money to flow directly back to the energy producing counties. She noted that an interim committee has been set up to address the social impacts, but right now HB 1139 is a start.

Penry observed that HB 1139 was an example on how the bi-partisan legislators on the Western Slope have worked together. “There’s only about nine of us altogether, so we start off with a disadvantage,” he added.

“This is an important bill for small towns such as Colbran and Meeker,” Buescher said, “because they don’t have the matching funds for grants from the Department of Local Affairs. This bill recognizes the impacts the oil and gas industry has on small communities.”

Ritter was especially proud to sign HB 1252 that protects surface owners from shoddy drilling practices. “If there was one problem that was articulated over and over again while I was on the Western Slope, it was the impact of drilling to land owners,” Ritter emphasized. “This bill involved a very bi-partisan effort to get passed and it will encourage drillers to minimize the impacts and use alternative methods to lessen their effect to the surface owner.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Ellen Roberts was thrilled HB 1252 was being signed today. “We have a chip on our shoulder on the Western Slope and we’re proud of it,” she kidded. “We’re not trying to stop energy development, we just want to make the oil and gas companies more accountable,” Roberts said. “This is truly historic-we’ve changed a mining law that dates back to the 1800’s.”

Sen. Jim Isgar, the co-sponsor, said this was probably the fourth attempt on this type of bill. “I have to give credit to Rep. Curry for her efforts the past two years,” he offered, “but this bill is much simpler than the others-it basically says that if the drillers don’t do a good job, they are liable for damages. The industry needs to be a good neighbor.” He noted that there really isn’t a Democratic or Republican Party when it comes to legislators across the Divide. “We become the ‘Western Slope Party’ in the legislature,” Isgar joked.

Ritter said he vividly remembers a meeting in Meeker in 2005 where he learned that Colorado is the only state that does not have any rules when it comes to verifying production numbers at the well head. In fact, a state audit showed that as many as 40% of the oil and gas companies never filed a tax report from 2002 to 2004. Severance tax on a state and federal level is levied by metering the gas and oil taken out of the ground at the well head. County assessors and royalty owners also depend on those figures for compensation.

HB 1180 will rectify those problems. “We want to make sure everyone is getting their fair share,” Ritter reiterated, “and I am very happy this bill will be signed today.” Isgar added that Rep. Al White, who could not attend the signings, had worked hard to make sure information about well head production will be shared by local, state and federal entities. “This bill will move Colorado up to the standards practiced elsewhere in the country,” Isgar said.

Ritter also signed SB 91 sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz which will help map out electric transmission lines in the state. “We will be able to plan where the energy is coming from and where it needs to go,” Schwartz explained. She estimated that eventually this will lead to a $2 billion dollar investment in the Western Slope energy infrastructure.

In closing, Ritter looked around the room. “I see a lot of citizens who gave their input to legislators, who testified in Denver and spent their time and resources to make sure these bills were passed. You need to take a lot of the credit.”

Read about Part I here.

Colorado Confidential, without the help of a police escort, won’t make it to the bill signing ceremony  in Grand Junction.

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