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A production truck near oil and gas operations along Colorado 52 in Weld County near Dacono on June 5, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The full-time oil and gas commission that will handle the development of some of the most controversial regulations mandated by the legislature in 2019, was announced Monday by Gov. Jared Polis.

The five-member commission, which takes over July 1, will replace the nine-member, volunteer body that has been working for the last year on regulations required by Senate Bill 181. That law seeks to toughen oversight of the industry, give local governments more control and change the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“These new appointees will build upon the progress the volunteer commission has made thus far, and the professionalization of these roles is an important step for streamlining the process and increasing regulatory efficiency in Colorado,” Polis said in a statement.

Jeff Robbins, who had been COGCC director for last year, will become chairman of the new full-time commission. A move, he said, that will free him from administrative duties to focus on “vision and goals.”

Julie Murphy, COGCC chief of staff and senior policy advisor, will replace Jeff Robbins as the agency’s director.

“Going from a commission that meets a day or two every six weeks to five fulltime commissioners you increase the bandwidth and the capacity of the commission substantially,” Robbins said in a telephone press conference. “Implementation of Senate Bill 181 is at a critical juncture.”

Dan Haley, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association trade group, called the new panel a “balanced commission that represents Colorado and its unique interests and viewpoints.”

“Colorado already has the most comprehensive rules in the country to regulate the oil and natural gas industry and to protect our environment,” Haley said in an emailed statement. “Those rules are about to be made that much tougher, as this new professional commission will have its work cut out for it right out of the gate as it tackles a massive rulemaking as required by Senate Bill 181. We are committed to working with them and being at the table as Coloradans in trying to find a path forward that works for all of us.” 

Lynn Granger, executive director of American Petroleum Institute Colorado, said the trade group acknowledges “the importance of having a dedicated commission to regulate our industry given the complexities associated with it, and advocated for its professionalization as Senate Bill 181 was debated in 2019.”

As COGCC has begun to do the work laid out by Senate Bill 181, activists on either end of the oil and gas debate continue to fight their battles, with at least six potential ballot measures approved for signature gathering. These range from one that would expand setbacks from wells to 2,500 feet to one that would disband COGCC and replace it with a nine-member oil and gas regulatory body appointed by a panel of judges.

Senate Bill 181 set out six rulemakings for the COGCC. The volunteer commission completed three of those: regulating flowlines from wells, raising well integrity standards and establishing rules to create the position of hearing officers to gather testimony in complex cases.

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The most contentious elements, however, were left for the professional commission, including changing the COGCC’s mission from promoting oil and gas development to regulating the industry to protect public health, safety and welfare, and giving local governments more control over oil and gas operations.

Regulations assessing the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development and requiring alternative site analysis have also been a target of concern for both environmental groups and industry, according to filings with the commission.

Hearings on these rules are slated for late August and early September with the goal of having the regulations in place Nov. 1, Robbins said.

MORE: New energy legislation didn’t end Colorado’s “oil and gas wars.” It just relocated them.

The commissioners will receive a salary of $150,000 and year, as chairman Robbins will get $161,700, equal to his current salary as COGCC director.

Senate Bill 181 set out criteria for the profession backgrounds of each commission post.

Here are details on Polis’ appointees:

Priya K. Nanjappa, of Lakewood, will serve as a member with formal training or substantial experience in environmental protection, wildlife protection, or reclamation. She has worked as director of operations for Conservation Science Partners Inc. and as a Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) program manager.

Karin L. McGowan, of Lakewood, will serve as a member with formal training or substantial experience in public health. McGowan is resigning her job as deputy executive director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to join the commission.

John August Messner, of Gunnison, will serve as a member with substantial expertise in planning or land use. Messner has been a Gunnison County Commissioner and has experience in public policy related to outdoor recreation, land use, and local government. Messer was a member of the volunteer commission.

Bill Gonzalez, of Denver, will serve as a member with substantial experience in the oil and gas industry. Gonzalez has worked as land manager with Occidental Petroleum and holds a law degree from the University of Texas.

Before heading the COGCC, Robbins was an attorney in a Durango law firm that specializes in representing local governments on oil and gas issues. He also served on former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s blue-ribbon panel on oil and gas reforms.

Robbins will serve as a member with professional experience “demonstrating an ability to contribute to the commission’s body of expertise that will aid the commission in making sound, balanced decisions.”

The appointments of Robbins, McGowan and Gonzales are for four years and those of Messner and Nanjappa are for two years, as set in the law.

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @bymarkjaffe