(Mar. 25) – The House Finance committee passed a bill to update Colorado’s antiquated oil and gas laws to protect families and individuals from residential drilling by putting health and safety first, empowering local communities, and protecting Colorado’s clean air and clean water.
“Oil and gas drilling is happening in neighborhoods at unprecedented levels and if industry continues to ignore the Coloradans who are raising issues around drilling–as they have been for years–they will continue to be in the same position,” said Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. “I’m proud of this bill and the stakeholder work that has gone into it because it will finally put health and safety first, protect our air, water and enhance our way of life.”
“As a pediatrician and legislator, I support this bill because we should be protecting the health and safety of the children I care for in my clinic every day,” said Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, the legislature’s only doctor and the co-prime sponsor of the bill. “We shouldn’t prioritize well sites over of the health of wheezing infants. Flow lines shouldn’t be more important than the cardiovascular systems of seniors. That’s why this bill gives tools to local governments to decide what is the right balance between responsible resource extraction and the health of Coloradans.”
The bill directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to regulate oil and gas development to protect public welfare, and clarifies that local governments have the same authority to regulate the oil and gas industry as they have with every other industry in Colorado – including the mining industry. The bill also removes the prohibition against local governments requiring oil and gas companies to cover the direct costs of regulating, monitoring and permitting the sites in their communities.
The bill addresses emissions and air quality by requiring increased monitoring and implementing a rule-making process to reduce emissions to better meet federal regulations. A “brown cloud” returned to Denver earlier this month and reports showed that the air quality was worse than that of Beijing.
SB19-181 would also ensure that taxpayers are not footing the bill for cleaning up orphan oil and gas wells that have been abandoned but not adequately plugged. Current bonding requirements are often found to be inadequate to cover the cost of clean-up when a company abandons a well. Clean-up costs for just one abandoned well costs an average of $82,000. Currently, there are more than 260 known orphan wells and 365 associated known orphan well sites in 31 Colorado counties.
Finally, SB19-181 also provides increased protections for property owners with regard to forced pooling. Under current law, just one mineral rights owner can start the process of “force pooling” other mineral interest owners and require development of those resources – against the will of the majority of the owners. This bill would raise the threshold and put more transparency and guardrails on the process.
The arguments peddled by the oil and gas industry are misleading. The sponsors and proponents of the bill made clear during the hearing that this bill is not a reiteration of Proposition 112, nor is it a moratorium or a ban on drilling.
SB19-181 passed the House Finance Committee on a vote of 7-4 and now goes to the Appropriations committee.