House Approves Becker-Caraveo Bill to Prioritize Health and Safety of Coloradans & Give Local Communities a Voice

(Mar. 29) – The House gave final approval to a bill that will 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 our clean air and clean water. 

“For years, bill after bill to put reasonable oil and gas reforms on the books were blocked at the legislature and the voices of our communities were ignored. Today, we are listening to our communities and refusing to ignore the growing health and environmental impacts of oil and gas drilling near homes and schools,” Speaker KC Becker said.“Today, our state took a big step forward toward reforming our antiquated oil and gas laws. This bill offers simple changes around forced pooling, orphan wells, flow lines, local control and air quality.”

“I thank Erin Martinez for lending her powerful voice to this fight. My colleagues and I share her belief that the industry can put health and safety first and continue to thrive at the same time. We, like many Coloradans, admire Erin Martinez’s strength, commitment, and courage,” Speaker Becker added. 

The landmark 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. 

“This bill will reform COGCC and ensure health and safety comes first,” said Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, the legislature’s only doctor and the co-prime sponsor of the bill.“I look forward to the day in clinic when I know an asthma exacerbation is simply the result of allergies. Local governments deserve a voice when it comes to residential drilling. It is time for our government to listen to science, not rhetoric from special interests looking to profit at the expense of our safety and health.”

“I hope that we are able to protect the health, safety and welfare of communities through this bill. I thank my colleagues, my community and Speaker Becker for all of her efforts to put this commonsense bill on the books,” Rep. Caraveo added. 

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 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 nearly 400 known orphan wells in Colorado and a long list of wells that should be investigated. 

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 “forced 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 and floor debate that this bill is not a reiteration of Proposition 112, nor is it a moratorium or a ban on drilling. 

SB19-181 was approved on a vote of 36-28 and it now goes back to the Senate.   

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