Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Dani Hemmat

Baby steps or major steps?


March 21, 2019

Dani Hemmat

Earlier this year, Anandarko performed routine maintenance of a gas well located directly southwest of the Park and Ride at Niwot and Hwy. 287

Senate Bill 181 (SB181) is on track to become law, and the bill contains the most sweeping regulations of the Colorado oil and gas industry in decades, giving many who oppose oil and gas development, including fracking, cause for celebration. Other anti-fracking activists believe the bill is simply more of the same and doesn’t go far enough to reform decades-old legislation that impacts the health and safety of Coloradans.

But what would SB181, as it stands now, mean to Boulder County residents if Governor Polis signs it into law near the end of this month?

In its most basic form, SB181 would place more control into local authorities. Current law gives the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) exclusive authority relating to the conservation of oil and gas. SB181 would place more control of oil and gas operations into the hands of local government. This is currently prohibited under current Colorado law, which has left city and county governments virtually unable to influence when and how extraction occurs within their own borders.

When Colorado’s current legal and regulatory framework for fossil-fuel extraction was written decades ago, drilling operations tended to be smaller, less disruptive, and farther from residential areas. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was not being heavily utilized and environmental and health effects were not known at the time.

SB181 would remove the exemption that oil and gas companies have from counties’ authorities to regulate noise; it would give city and county governments land use authority to regulate the siting of wells and “to minimize adverse impacts to public safety, health, welfare, and the environment and to regulate land use and surface impacts, including the ability to inspect oil and gas facilities; impose fines for leaks, spills, and emissions; and impose fees on operators or owners to cover the reasonably foreseeable direct and indirect costs of permitting and regulation and the costs of any monitoring and inspection program necessary to address the impacts of development and enforce local governmental requirements.”

Other sections of the bill include stipulations for the air quality control commission to review its leak detection and repair rules and to adopt rules to minimize hazardous emissions from extraction operations. University of Colorado researchers reported last year that Boulder county’s air quality suffers when the wind carries pollutants from oil and natural gas development in nearby Weld county.

Other amendments in SB181 include a revision of the forced pooling statutes, which currently can force non-consenting parties to be part of a drilling operation with only one proximate party giving consent. SB181 would change that requirement to 50 percent of the mineral-rights owners consenting to contract with an extraction company for forced pooling to be enacted.

Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder and the bill’s sponsor, said on the Senate floor the day before the bill passed, “This bill does not solve every problem, nor does it by any means ease everyone’s concerns, whether from local governments’ perspective, from advocates or from industry, of course. But I think it is a very major step forward.”

Many activists who have been fighting for oil and gas industry reform for years feel that SB181 is more of a baby step than a major step. On the surface, it seems that SB181 would be the answer to the increasing frustration that local authorities and activists have felt over the past several years when they fight oil and gas development only to be overruled by state law. Colorado Rising, the largest oil and gas reform group in Colorado, issued this statement regarding SB181:

“Colorado Rising is taking a neutral position on SB181. While it would be immoral and unconscionable not to pass this bill, it does not go far enough to protect communities from dangerous oil and gas. This is the most powerful bill that we have seen come out of the legislature in ten years. This is a step in the right direction to balance the scales of power that have for far too long allowed the industry to run roughshod through Colorado communities. SB181 establishes that health and safety are the priority and grant local control to communities, something that any other industry would be required to fulfill. However, this bill leaves much work to be done in regards to enforcement, accountability and establishing definitive health and safety protections. Colorado Rising will be there to stand with communities.”


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