DENVER - The oil and gas regulation push by Colorado's Democratic Legislature pressed ahead Thursday, with Democrats seeing mixed results in efforts to put new limits on "the state's most powerful industry."
Results were mixed for Democrats seeking to curb energy companies and assure the public that new drilling procedures are safe.
A House committee voted in favor of a bill to add fees to oil and gas companies to pay for additional local drill inspectors. But the same committee rejected a bill to study of whether Front Range drilling operations can harm human health.
The bills are the latest push by ruling Democrats to put additional oversight on an industry to which the state Legislature has historically deferred. Additional bills to require more financial disclosure by oil and gas regulators, and to dramatically hike daily fines for spills and violations, await votes.
Ruling Democrats haven't ruled out a potential bill to give local governments new rights to exceed requirement by state oil and gas regulators. House Democratic Leader Dickie Lee Hullinghorst told reporters Thursday that such a bill could be introduced in the next few days.
Legislative Democrats say the bills are the result of local demands for greater oversight. Technological advances have allowed the rise of oil and gas drilling in places that never had it before, prompting worries that drilling in populated areas carries new health risks.
Residents "have a lot of concerns about what the environmental impacts and the human health impacts of this development are going to be," said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins and sponsor of the local fee requirement.
The drilling debates threaten to fracture the Democratic majority in the Capitol. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper zealously defends the industry, especially the controversial drilling procedure of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The administration has vowed to sue cities and counties that try to ban the technique, which involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to extract oil and gas from rock.
Hickenlooper has been silent on the proposals made by his Democratic counterparts in the Legislature, so it's not clear whether he'd veto any of the new limits that land on his desk.
Oil and gas lobbyists have pressed hard this session to turn back attempts to limit drilling. Industry groups have been a constant presence at legislative hearings this year as drilling regulations have been considered.
Some drilling critics griped Thursday that the industry's push shows it's too powerful.
"It appears there are more oil and gas lobbyists in this building than the state has inspectors," said Boulder County drilling regulation volunteer Rod Bruski.
On the other side, industry groups are hoping lawmakers defer to an industry that brings thousands of direct and indirect jobs to Colorado.
"There are many jobs that are brought into this state," said Carly West of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.