Western Wire

For once, industry and activists are both on the same side: no comment on the bill.

Or for those over 40, where’s the beef?

Colorado caught a sneak peek at the Democrats’ expected oil and gas legislation when Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, House Speaker K.C. Becker, and Gov. Jared Polis pulled the curtain back just slightly to offer a preview of their upcoming comprehensive oil and gas legislation, but provided little in the way of concrete, nuts-and-bolts details that both industry observers and anti-oil and gas activists could dig into without a bill.

“The legislation we will be introducing in the coming days is not window dressing,” said Fenberg. “But it also is not an attack on an industry.”

As readers of Western Wire know, we’ve been covering the potential legislation, and little new was presented, as there were no surprise aspects not already discussed in public by the Democratic leadership at previous townhalls this month.

Democrats did pass out a bullet-pointed one pager that began, “When it comes to oil and gas drilling, health and safety MUST come first.” At a townhall in Boulder last week, Democratic leaders, including Fenberg provided much the same outline—a comprehensive bill that would tackle what they saw as problems with the state’s oil and gas regulators, providing communities some level of local control, and clarify the state’s policy on forced pooling of mineral rights owners.

According to the handout, clarification of the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is the first priority, by replacing the “foster” language that exists within current statute with a more robust regulatory framework, though specific bill language was not available after the press conference. Democrats promise more action on orphan wells, as well as adding an additional COGCC commissioner with “public health expertise,” and more latitude in charging permitting fees.

The as-yes-to-be-seen legislation would also expand the ability of local governments to implement land use authority “to protect their public health, safety, welfare, environment, and wildlife.” Colorado’s Supreme Court has ruled as recently as 2016 that state law trumps local bans on hydraulic fracturing, and Democrats hope to change that by altering the state law that provides that pre-emption.

In their preview, forced pooling will now require a simple majority of mineral rights owners to approve before a “force pool” would be enacted. Finally the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be asked to promulgate new regulations on methane and other emissions.

Joe Salazar, Executive Director for Colorado Rising, the group that put forth the setback measure Proposition 112 last fall, told the Colorado Sun, “we have no position on any possible bill that may be brought” since the group had not seen any bill language.

Salazar, a former Colorado State Representative, has never shied away from sharing his negative views on oil and gas-related matters. His group reaffirmed their desire to see the bill first via Twitter.

“We will maintain our position that we have no comment on this bill until we actually see the language. Oil and gas thrives on seemingly innocuous loophole [sic] that allows them to skirt the full effect of the law and regulations,” Colorado Rising wrote, saying they would review the bill upon its release.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is also taking a moment to see what the bill actually contains, but took issue with today’s presentation, specifically the notion that Colorado’s oil and gas laws have not been updated in six decades or that the stakeholder engagement process included industry, its workers, or the state’s mineral rights owners.

“While we look forward to seeing legislation that lawmakers have described as common-sense reforms, their notion that oil and natural gas regulations haven’t been modernized and strengthened in 60 years is revisionist history,” said Dan Haley, COGA’s CEO and President. “We have the strictest regulations in the country and they have been updated dozens and dozens of times with bipartisan support and the involvement of countless stakeholders. Ask Gov. Hickenlooper. Ask Gov. Ritter. Ask Gov. Romer. Rather than crafting their reforms in secret, they built a table big enough for all Coloradans to have a legitimate discussion.”

“While we’re offended by this intentional mischaracterization of our industry, we’re committed to the upcoming legislative process because we’re committed to Colorado,” Haley continued. “We’ve been here for more than 100 years and we operate at the highest standards in the country. We share the values expressed today by the governor and our legislative leaders for clean air, clean water, and safe communities. Lawmakers who debate this bill should keep in mind the private property rights of countless Coloradans and the more than 100,000 working oil and gas families across the state, including in Boulder County.”

Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley agreed.

“In my over 15 years of working with the Colorado state government, not having a thorough stakeholder process is unprecedented, especially for a bill that targets one industry but impacts every Coloradan,” wrote Bentley. “We are deeply disappointed that House and Senate leadership do not appear to value the stakeholder process nor the importance of having all stakeholders at the table on one of the most consequential proposals in Colorado history.”

Bentley challenged the bill’s drafters to commit to “a transparent, public legislative process from here forward” given that “a bill of this magnitude must be considered with immense thoughtfulness and time.”

Without a bill, however, Bentley said CPC was reserving comment.

The Colorado Business Roundtable and more than two dozen other business organizations, unions, and chambers of commerce like Denver Pipefitters Local 208, the Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Greeley Area Chamber of Commerce urged Polis and fellow Democrats to maintain a “healthy business environment that supports our state’s workforce, benefits its citizens, protects our environment and makes Colorado the envy of the country.”

The letter sent earlier in the day to Polis and other Democrats, before the press conference, called on legislators to respect the will of the voters who defeated Proposition 112 handily in November, seek reasonable compromise and collaboration, drive legislation based on science and not on fear, and remember the valuable contributions made by the industry in the form of tax revenues that go, most importantly, to issues like education.

“It is critical that scientific facts drive the debate on oil and natural gas regulation. (emphasis in original) Unfortunately, activist groups have made a series of demonstrably false claims concerning health, safety and the environment. Colorado health officials have been monitoring the effectiveness of the state’s oil and natural gas regulatory framework for years and have factual answers to the questions raised by some citizens and elected officials about energy development,” they wrote. “The facts must continue to drive the discussion.”

Last week Fenberg denied activists’ charge that oil and gas industry representatives had seen the draft legislation, while admitting that many activists had direct input in the bill’s genesis.

Without the legislative language and legal maneuverings the bill would actually attempt in its effort to meet these new goals, the wait-and-see approach remains as the calendar moves from February to March and the clock starts counting down on the final weeks of the 2019 legislative session.