(Mar. 28) – The House gave preliminary 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.
“This bill has been a long time coming and it attempts to address the concerns of many local communities about the increased quantity of oil and gas drilling happening in their communities and because they don’t have a say in it,” said Speaker KC Becker. “This bill ensures taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for cleaning up abandoned wells; it strengthens laws around forced pooling, mapping of flow lines and air quality; and finally reforms the COGCC.”
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.
“As we discuss flow lines, well sites and profits, it might be easy for some to lose sight of a major aspects of this bill and that’s the refocusing of the COGCC to put health and safety 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. It’s time we balance economic growth with the actual growth of children who go to school around oil and gas 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.”
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 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 voice vote. A recorded vote will soon follow.