Committee right to uphold local government authority

Post Independent Opinion
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

On Thursday, the state Senate Local Government Committee killed Senate Bill 88, a bill that would have barred local governments from taking any actions to regulate oil and gas drilling.

We were prepared to urge the state Legislature to kill this bill. Now we can thank the legislators on the committee for deep-sixing this misguided measure.

The Legislature has already killed two Democrat-sponsored measures tightening regulation of the gas industry. One, sponsored by Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, would have limited open-pit storage of drilling fluids. The other called for increasing the distance of drilling wells from schools.

But the Republican-sponsored SB 88, “Pre-emption of local regulation of oil and gas operations,” clearly went too far in the opposite direction. It was a knee-jerk response to some Front Range communities that tried to use local land use powers to limit where drilling could occur.

While we understand the industry’s call for uniform regulations across the whole state, county and city governments cannot be gagged in the process.

Local governments need to retain their power over land use, zoning and road impacts. And they need to keep their authority to protect air and water quality, which is allowed in concert with regulation by state agencies.

County residents and business owners have the right to be heard by their city and county officials on these matters, and to feel that their local governments have sufficient authority to regulate the gas industry accordingly.

How could the residents of Western Colorado ever expect to take a complaint about man-camp operations or heavy truck traffic on a farm-to-market road before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission?

With a heavy docket on its monthly meetings, and its complex rules for placing an item on the agenda and providing notice to all parties, the oil and gas commission is many steps removed from the immediate or everyday problems of gas patch residents. And that’s not to mention its location in Denver – a long trip even in the best of weather.

Moreover, the state oil and gas commission takes months, if not years, to enact regulations in response to changing circumstances. It must agree on regulations that apply uniformly to circumstances across the state, and do so in a highly charged political environment.

There’s little flexibility, as a result, to react to localized problems in any reasonable time frame, and little ability to customize an on-the-ground solution that works for operators, landowners, road supervisors and others.

Colorado’s present system of regulating the oil and gas industry is not perfect. But it sets up a balance of power that places more technical regulation in the hands of state officials, while placing land use-related authority in the hands of county officials.

SB 88 would have seriously messed with that balance, and we are happy to see its demise.

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