From the Grand Junction Sentinel

DENVER — Lawmakers’ disagreement over oil and gas development returned to the Colorado Legislature on Wednesday as committees in both chambers killed two bills aimed at fracking and public safety.

Senate committee kills HB 1071

In the GOP-controlled Senate, the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee killed a bill introduced by Democrats to require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to place public safety issues over production.

That measure, HB1071, is based on a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling last year that the commission isn’t properly following a legal requirement to balance fostering oil and gas production needs with public health, safety and welfare.

Opponents argued that the bill is premature because the ruling is being appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

“That would totally upend the commission’s mission,” said Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council.

Supporters of the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said recent explosions at gas wells, including one in Firestone last year that killed two people, are a good example of why public health and safety must come first in approving new drilling wells.

But Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and chairman of the committee, wouldn’t allow witnesses to address that explosion or any other, saying they had nothing to do with the bill.

“This bill has to do with the health issues,” Sonnenberg said.

“Being killed is a health issue,” Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, countered. “This bill’s all about protecting people and making that a priority.”

House committee kills HB 1150

The second measure, HB1150, would have required local governments that ban hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells to be liable for any monetary losses to mineral interest owners.

The Democratic-controlled House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee likewise killed that bill on a 6-3 party-line vote, introduced by Windsor GOP Rep. Perry Buck.

Buck said such bans constitute a taking of private property without compensation because moratoriums bar mineral rights owners from making money from their property.

Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Denver, said the bill goes against 100 years of case law on such property rights, and “reduces to zero” a duly elected local government’s ability to pass laws it believes are best for its citizens.

From the Denver Post

Colorado lawmakers kill bill to require protecting people and the environment as oil and gas operations move closer

Frustrated residents, local governments, environment groups look ahead to November election

Quick as the cracks from Senate President Jerry Sonnenberg’s gavel, Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday killed a bill that would have required state regulators of the oil and gas industry to prioritize public health and safety before allowing more drilling inside cities.

Lobbyists for the industry lauded the death on an 8-3 vote in the Senate Agriculture Committee of the bill introduced by Rep. Joe Salazar to clarify the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission in line with the Martinez decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals. That court decision obligates the COGCC to treat protection of public health and the environment as “a precondition that must be fulfilled” by the state before oil and gas drilling can be done.

The lawmakers’ decision to kill this bill before it could face full debate on the floor rankled some Front Range residents, local governments, the Sierra Club, Conservation Colorado and others who went to the statehouse to support it.

“This is what I expected,” said retired software engineer Mick Watkins, 65, who lives near an approved Extraction project in Broomfield. “It is a Republican-controlled committee, and they seem to favor the oil and gas industry over public safety. But it is not what government should be doing. Government should be protecting the public rather than sheltering and promoting a private industry, especially when that industry already is damaging public health and safety.”

Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones reminded the lawmakers that oil and gas development last year led to four deaths, 14 explosions and 619 spills, including six where contaminants flowed directly into surface waterways. “The demise of HB 1017 sends a clear message,” Jones said after the vote. “If you are concerned about the impacts of oil and gas drilling on your kids or the environment, your best hope is the November ballot box — not this legislature.”

A Colorado Oil and Gas Association spokesman said “we are grateful” that state senators defeated the bill in committee. Colorado Petroleum Council officials had testified that the bill was “destructive” and could have halted energy development, that it would “circumvent our judicial system” and threaten the fiscal health of the state.

Among other oil boom-related bills still in play:

  • A House measure would require companies to report more fully their spills, explosions, fires and worker injuries to state officials — and also make some of that information available to the public.
  • Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would force local governments that ban or place moratoriums on drilling to pay oil and gas companies for any lost revenue.
  • A bill-in-the-making would prevent “forced pooling” of oil and gas under city, county and school land.

“There’s not a ton of potential here to get things done,” Conservation Colorado organizer Sophia Guerrero-Murphy said. “This bill was about recognizing that protecting public health and safety and the environment needs to come before corporate profits. It is always frustrating to watch a good bill die.”

Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, acknowledged the wide public concerns following the fatal Firestone house explosion last year and opted to hold the public hearing prior to his committee’s vote. Yet he insisted that testimony from residents and advocacy groups, and discussion among lawmakers, could not address oil and gas industry explosions. Sonnenberg repeatedly cut off transgressing testimony and discussion, and banged his gavel to silence a woman who argued it was relevant and, as a sergeant at arms approached to remove her, called a recess. Then he ended testimony and called for the vote.

“I wanted to stay focused on the issue,” Sonnenberg said.

Several lawmakers prefaced their “no” votes by restating industry arguments that the COGCC’s mission should be left to the judicial branch of government. The COGCC and industry groups last year appealed the Colorado Court of Appeals ruling, and the Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to review it. Walking away, Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo West, said lawmakers acting now to emphasize public health and safety could “bias” court decision-making.  “We don’t regularly interrupt processes where things are being vetted through courts,” Garcia said.

State Sens. Matt Jones, Rhonda Fields and Steve Fenberg voted for the bill. Fields said she did so partly out of protest, saying she was “absolutely appalled at the way our witnesses were treated” when they tried to express concerns about explosions.

Fenberg told Sonnenberg the bill “is about health and safety” and that “it is appropriate to think of recent events in the context of this bill.” And it is the job of lawmakers to make and change laws regardless of judicial review, Fenberg said. “What this is about is that people are scared. … I do not see a more fundamental role for our institution than to protect public health and safety.”

Jones, too, tried to bring up the explosions during the committee hearing. “When people die, it is a public health and safety issue,” he said later. “This oil and gas development is too near people.”


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