Fines, spill reporting bills move through Legislature | PostIndependent.com

Fines, spill reporting bills move through Legislature

John ColsonPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, Colorado CO

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – At least two of the energy-related bills now working their way through the Colorado General Assembly might directly affect a current oil and gas issue in Garfield County.The bills, dealing with fines against energy companies that violate state rules (HB1267) and the reporting of spills from oil & gas facilities (HB1278), are being watched closely by the industry and its critics in light of an ongoing spill event on Parachute Creek.The state House and Senate, which both are controlled by Democrats, have been working on a number of bills concerning a wide range of issues related to oil and gas exploration and production around the state.Among them are bills that would reduce conflicts of interest among members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; give local governments authority to charge the industry to address impacts; dramatically increase the number of inspectors and the frequency of inspections of oil and gas facilities; and boost the level of research into human health impacts due to industry activities.The fines legislation, HB 1267, was introduced by Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, which is near the city of Longmont. The Longmont City Council is being sued by the COGCC to overturn a new municipal law outlawing the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” within city limits.According to the text of HB1267, current law specifies that a violation of the “Oil and Gas Conservation Act” is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per day, with a cap of $10,000 for “violations that are not significant.”Rep. Foote’s bill would increase the maximum daily fine to $15,000 and would set an additional minimum fine of $5,000 per day for violations that “have a significant adverse impact on public health, safety or welfare, including the environment and wildlife resources.”The bill also would repeal the existing cap on maximum total fines.The bill was passed out of the House Finance Committee on March 27, and is now headed for the House Appropriations Committee.A hearing on the spill-reporting bill, HB 1278, was to have started on March 28 but was delayed until the next scheduled meeting of the House Committee on Transportation and Energy.The Colorado General Assembly was closed on March 29 in observance of the Good Friday holiday.The spill-reporting bill, sponsored by Routt County Democrat Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush, would require that energy companies report spills of a single barrel’s worth (42 gallons) or more of hydrocarbons, where the industry currently is required only to report spills of five barrels (210 gallons) or more.In addition to reporting a spill to the COGCC, an oil and gas operator also would need to report a spill to either the local city or county, whichever holds jurisdiction; to the surface property owner; and to owners of adjacent property.And the spill, under HB 1278, would have to be reported within 24 hours of discovery, rather than the 10 days a company can now take to formally report a spill.The bills are supported by industry critics, who have maintained that there was inadequate public notification of the ongoing Parachute plume spill until more than a week after it was discovered.The operator at the site, Williams Midstream, reported the spill by telephone on the day it was found, March 8, according to Williams and the COGCC.But notice of the spill was not placed on the COGCC website, and the public was unaware of the situation, until a Denver Post story appeared on March 16.Industry critics also have long argued that the fines assessed against drillers are too small to deter further violations of the rules.Doug Flanders, spokesman on legislative issues for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, wrote in an email to the Post Independent that the industry realizes that “oil and gas regulations must work to both protect the environment and the business climate by encouraging best practices without being punitive.”While not happy the industry was not consulted prior to introduction of HB 1267, Flanders wrote, “We look forward to working with State Representative Foote on his legislation.”Concerning HB 1278, Flanders wrote that the current regulations regarding spills are “more than adequate and protective.”But, he added, the industry also is eager to work with Rep. Mitsch-Bush.”We think it’s important that any conversation about oil and gas acknowledge how interdependent Coloradoans are with these resources,” Flanders wrote. “There are energy providers and energy users, and any legislation must acknowledge that were are all invested in this together.”jcolson@postindependent.com


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