Garfield County listens, reacts as SB181 moves forward
Since being introduced by Colorado Democrats earlier this month, Senate Bill 181 has seen massive support from those favoring local control, and criticism from industry officials and Republicans.
The bill seeks to reshape Colorado’s oil and gas industry policies and procedures with an emphasis on public health and safety and more local control.
Residents in all corners of Colorado will be watching to see how the bill progresses in the coming weeks, months and maybe even years, especially Garfield County,
As the second-largest producer of natural gas in the state, a sweeping overhaul of the regulations could have major impacts in the county and across the Western Slope.
On Monday, the Garfield County commissioners affirmed their support for an industry that remains one of the county’s largest employers.
The bill passed the full Senate Wednesday, despite the commissioners’ testimony urging senators to hold off in passing the bill.
“Colorado just voted to defeat Proposition 112 [regarding greater setback provisions], and now this legislation tries to achieve what 112 did not,” reads the commissioners’ written testimony to the Colorado Senate. “This bill is a direct assault on the oil and gas industry.”
Commissioners questioned the data used to present the bill, stating that Garfield County’s “robust industry emissions and air quality data,” which the county has invested millions of dollars in, has demonstrated consistently good air quality for Garfield County.
“Please consult competent data and studies to inform the legislation,” the county’s testimony reads
However, this concern was not felt by all Garfield County citizens, many of whom traveled to Grand Junction and Denver to testify directly in favor of the new proposal.
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, was in Denver as one of several local community group leaders in support of the bill.
“We need strong state regulations, in addition to more local control power, when local governments can’t or won’t protect health and safety, as in the case of Garfield County,” she told the committee.
The bill, introduced by Colorado Democratic leadership and Gov. Jared Polis just two weeks ago, seeks to clarify the role of the COGCC and will give more authority to local governments in allowing oil and gas developments in their community.
While the bill has received support by the Colorado Senate, passing the Senate floor on Wednesday in a 19-15 vote along party lines, its next step will be heading to the House.
“Western Coloradans cheer the passage of SB 181 out of the state Senate as a long overdue step to protect the public health and safety of residents living with the impacts of oil and gas,” Western Colorado Alliance Emily Hornback said.
While it will not be an easy fight one way or the other, should the bill pass, it would have a dramatic impact on Garfield County’s economy and overall landscape.
At the March 7 Energy Advisory Board meeting in Rifle, Garfield County Finance Director Theresa Wagenman outlined the impact the industry has had on the county’s overall economy.
Aside from being one of Garfield County’s largest employers, 55 percent ($1.3 billion) of the county’s total assessed value ($2.38 billion) is derived from the oil and gas industry.
When asked how important the industry is to the county’s local economy, Wagenman said the oil and gas property tax is an important contributor to the county’s overall tax base.
The county is at just under $89 million in total revenue for 2018, and 33 percent of that was derived from property tax. Oil and gas property tax is at around $15 million, or about 17 percent of the county’s total revenue, according to Wagenman.
“The majority of the top taxpayers are oil and gas companies,” Wagenmann said at the EAB meeting. “Lots of special districts, fire districts and schools benefit from oil and gas property taxes.”
Ursa Operating Company’s John Doose asked Wagenman directly what the county’s plan is if those tax dollars start disappearing as a result of SB 181.
She said it’s something that is very concerning to the county commissioners.