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

(Mar. 19) – The House Energy and Environment committee approved SB19-181 tonight. The bill 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 Colorado’s clean air and clean water.

“I’m proud of this bill and the stakeholder work that went into it. It proposes commonsense updates and modernization of our oil and gas laws that are more appropriate for the time and place that we are in now,” said Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. “Oil and gas drilling is taking place at unprecedented levels in neighborhoods and the industry must be more accountable to the communities where they operate. This bill will put health and safety first and protect our air, water and unique quality of life.”

Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, the legislature’s only doctor and the co-prime sponsor of the bill, urged the committee to protect the health of the next generation of Coloradans by passing this bill.

“As a pediatrician and legislator, I support this bill because we should be ensuring the health and safety of the children I care for in my clinic every day,” said Rep. Caraveo. “We should be balancing our economic growth with the actual growth of children who go to school and live around oil and gas operations. Additionally, given how localized the health effects of these operations are, we should give more tools to our local governments to decide what is the right balance between responsible resource extraction and the health of Coloradans in their communities.”

Erin Martinez, a survivor of a tragic gas explosion in Firestone that killed her husband and brother, urged for stronger protections and spoke at length with members of the committee about the struggles she and her family have endured since that fateful day. Mrs. Martinez stated that had the protections outlined in SB19-181 been in place in 2017, her brother and husband might still be alive today. Martinez urged the committee to support the bill and said she believes the industry can put health and safety first and continue to thrive at the same time.

“Erin Martinez shared powerful testimony with the people of our state and our committee today about a heartbreaking tragedy that could have been prevented. We need to put health and safety first in our state and that’s what this bill does,” said Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, chair of the Energy and Environment committee.

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. This month, a “brown cloud” returned to Denver and reports showed that the air quality was worse than that of Beijing.

The bill 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 on a vote of 7-4 and now goes to the House Finance committee.

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