The oil and gas industry has spent the past eight years running roughshod over dozens of Colorado communities, proposing larger scale, higher intensity, closer in proximity massive industrial drilling projects in the midst of homes and neighborhoods.
In fact, as of today the industry has filed for more than 6,000 permits — what we would typically see in 10 years’ time — mostly along the urban Interstate 25 corridor.
SB 19-181 does the important and reasonable work of ensuring oil and gas regulations address the modern realities of drilling, including its size, scale and proximity to communities, by creating language that supports local control and the prioritization of health and safety.
Make no mistake, this bill is not about Proposition 112. Neither the words “setback” nor “moratorium” are included in the bill. Rather, it proposes an important revision to the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) ensuring taxpayer dollars support a regulatory framework, rather than an extension of an industry, as well as providing local jurisdiction and land use authority to municipalities and prioritizing human health and safety.
While the American Petroleum Institute’s recently debuted ad dramatically invokes a rushed 2 a.m. vote, it does what the industry so often does, by failing to tell the whole truth.
Our lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, remained at the Capitol until that late hour not due to any disinterest in transparency, but in order to accommodate the hundreds upon hundreds of people who traveled to the state Capitol last Tuesday to testify.
In fact, it was only after 221 proponents testified, many having waited between seven to 10 hours for their turn, that the bill was able to be voted on at 2 a.m. Compare this to the 179 opponents, many on paid time, who spoke before punching the clock and heading home.
Anyone who has spent time attending COGCC, legislative, or city council hearings, knows that this bill is long overdue. The bill sponsors, House Speaker KC Becker and Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, have been listening to and meeting with stakeholders for months.
In the first news conference, Gov. Jared Polis offered his full support for SB-181 alongside just a small handful of the many thousands of residents who have been impacted by oil and gas development, including perhaps the state’s most impacted resident, Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother were killed April 17, 2017, due to a leaking flow line.
While the industry may be upset they were not invited the opportunity to co-write this bill, it is in fact, a truer representation of how the legislative process should work, unfettered by corporate interests, and with a level playing field for the people.
Simply put, SB 19-181 does just that. It levels the playing field for the people, ensuring taxpayer dollars support an effective regulatory agency in the COGCC, that citizen health and safety is not lost to the almighty dollar and that local governments can exercise the same land use authorities granted to them on every other matter.
There may be a filibuster. But the people impacted are not going away and the issue will be addressed, in the legislature or, if not there, through continued efforts on the ballot.
The industry would be wise to take the opportunity to continue their work of “being a good neighbor” and “collaborating with municipalities” by agreeing that having a regulatory agency that provides true scrutiny rather than carte blanche permit approvals is equitable and to be expected.
And that being asked to work with local municipalities on zoning is reasonable and an opportunity to highlight their collaboration.
And, of course, that committing to operating in ways that ensure their operations do not jeopardize public health and safety are simple and valid expectations.
This is not an extreme bill, but an opportunity for the industry to demonstrate both its willingness and ability to be good corporate contributors to Colorado and its citizens.
Sara Loflin is the Executive Director for the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Citizens (LOGIC). LOGIC is a nonprofit organization working to ensure that impacted Coloradans have a voice in oil and gas policy.
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