Colorado lawmakers start on contentious oil, gas overhaul | PostIndependent.com

Colorado lawmakers start on contentious oil, gas overhaul

Dan Elliott
Associated Press
Natural gas rig in Garfield County.
Post Independent file

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s Democratic-controlled Legislature is scheduled to take the first step Tuesday toward a major overhaul of state oil and gas regulations, despite objections from Republicans and industry representatives who say the changes are being rushed through.

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee plans to hold the first hearing on a bill that would dramatically shift the role of state oil and gas regulators. It would make human health and environmental protection their highest priority, not energy production, as it is now.

The bill would also give local governments significant authority to regulate the location of new wells. Currently, only the state has that power.

The text of the bill was released late Friday, and the Tuesday hearing represents an unusually quick turnaround.

Industry representatives asked for a delay, and Republicans say Democrats are hurrying the process to limit debate.

“It is unprecedented for a piece of legislation this large to be heard in committee just a few days after it has been introduced,” Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Jeff Hays said Sunday.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Council said the bill is complicated and lawmakers need to consider it carefully.

“No good can come out of legislation that is revealed on a Friday night and rushed through the legislative process,” they said in a joint statement.

House Speaker KC Becker said Monday no interest groups saw the bill before it was released, but industry leaders were briefed on the outlines and offered comments.

“They provided a few and I think they’re going to be providing more in the next few days,” she said.

Opponents and supporters of the bill planned rallies Tuesday before the hearing.

Oil and gas drilling sparks frequent political and court battles in Colorado, particularly the fast-growing communities north of Denver, which overlap the rich Wattenberg oil and gas field.

The tide turned in November when Democrats wrested control of the state Senate from Republicans, giving them a majority in both houses of the Legislature and the power to shake up industry regulation.

Newly elected Gov. Jared Polis, a liberal Democrat who succeeded the more centrist Democrat John Hickenlooper, said he supports the changes outlined in the measure.

The far-reaching bill would reorganize the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry. The number of industry representatives would be reduced, and commissioners with expertise in environmental protection and public health would be added.

It would also rewrite the rules for “forced pooling,” a process that allows an energy company to extract oil and gas owned by multiple parties — even those who object — and then distribute the profits among them.

Currently, regulators can approve forced pooling requested by one party. The new legislation would require more than half the mineral owners to agree before regulators issue a force pooling order.

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Associated Press writer James Anderson contributed.