Heated Debate Over “Most Sweeping Oil & Gas Reforms” in Colorado’s History
Tyler Silvy of the Greeley Tribune
Republicans and industry groups are urging Democratic lawmakers in Colorado to wait just a minute when it comes to a newly introduced, sweeping oil and gas regulations bill scheduled for a hearing Tuesday.
But bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg is calling the industry and Republican handwringing nothing more than a political stunt.
Senate Bill 19-181 was introduced about 5 p.m. Friday, a day after a joint news conference involving sponsors Fenberg, D-Boulder; Speaker of the House K.C. Becker, D-Boulder; and Gov. Jared Polis, among others.
The bill would make a variety of changes to oil and gas law in Colorado, including the following:
- It would change the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from one of fostering oil and gas development to one of regulating the industry. It also changes the makeup of the COGCC board.
- It would provide explicit local control on oil and gas development, opening the door for local government-instituted bans or moratoriums, which have previously been tied up in court battles because the industry has been considered one of state interest.
- It would change the way forced or statutory pooling works, requiring a higher threshold of obtained mineral rights before companies can force pool other mineral rights owners in an area.
The bill is set for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Colorado Senate, and in news releases sent Sunday afternoon, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the Colorado Petroleum Council and the Colorado Republican Party all shared the same basic message: “This is going too darn fast.”
“We’re asking that Senate President Garcia and others allow for a transparent stakeholder process that includes impacted Coloradans, including local governments, environmental interests, regulators, and industry,” CPC Executive Director Tracee Bentley and COGA President Dan Haley said in a joint news release Sunday.
Colorado Republicans echoed those sentiments, albeit with a more political edge when addressing the schedule for the bill.
“This wasn’t a mistake — it’s a planned attempt to get this bill through the legislature as quickly as possible and prevent working Coloradans from speaking up,” Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Jeff Hays said in the release.
Fenberg didn’t laugh, but he did say it was funny that industry groups were putting on such a public show, as they were all involved in the process, and nothing in the bill should come as a surprise to them.
Fenberg said he has met with anybody who requested a meeting, including COGA, the American Petroleum Institute, Noble Energy, Anadarko and Extraction, among many others.
“We didn’t write this bill in a black box,” Fenberg said. “We solicited and received input from all stakeholders.”
In a follow-up statement sent to The Tribune on Sunday night, Bentley acknowledged that industry groups met with Democratic leadership and offered potential solutions. But she called the process highly unusual.
“We were promised a true stakeholder process where we could see a draft and have the opportunity to comment,” Bentley said. “That did not happen.”
Fenberg has an idea as to why industry groups and Republicans are railing against the process, saying it’s more about stalling than anything.
“They want to delay the bill to spend money on lobbying and putting up TV ads to try to kill the bill,” Fenberg said. “They have very expensive lawyers who either submitted language (for the bill) or are reading the bill. They don’t need more time to understand it; they need more time for politics.”
Bill sponsors have already taken their lumps from Weld County Republicans, including Weld County Commissioner Chairwoman Barbara Kirkmeyer, who railed against the “Boulder legislators” ramming through legislation without bothering to consult with Weld, the largest oil and gas producing county in the state.
Fenberg said sponsors met with Colorado Counties Incorporated, of which Weld County is a part, and with the Colorado Municipal League.
Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said Democrats were “playing games.”
“And unfortunately, they’re playing games with people’s livelihoods,” Cooke said.
Like the others, Cooke said Democratic leadership should have a more robust stakeholder process, and said it was happening too quickly. For context, he pointed to a transportation bill he introduced in the first week of the session that still hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.
When asked about the average wait time for a hearing for a bill introduced by the majority party, Cooke said it’s a minimum of two weeks.
Fenberg said there have been other bills this session that have reached a first committee hearing just as quickly as SB 19-181.
Further, Fenberg said this is the first of six proposed committee hearings — three in the Senate and three in the House. When it comes to feedback, Fenberg said, there’s plenty of time.
“That’s the purpose of committee hearings,” Fenberg said. “There will be amendments. There’s input — public input, people who support it, people who oppose it, people who think the bill doesn’t go far enough, people who think the bill goes too far.”
Cooke is also the assistant minority leader in the Colorado Senate, and as such he and Minority Leader Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, meet with Senate President Leroy Garcia and Senate Majority Leader Fenberg every Monday.
Cooke said Republicans on Monday will ask Democrats to delay the hearing for SB 181, but he’s not optimistic.
“We’re going to ask, but they’ll probably say no,” Cooke said.
— Tyler Silvy is a content manager for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.