Democrats in Colorado push for tighter controls over oil and gas industry

After Colorado voters rejected proposed tighter rules on oil and gas development last year, Democrats in the state plan to introduce legislation to carry out their targeting of the industry.

Democratic leaders in the Colorado legislature say they will introduce what they call “sweeping” legislation to redefine the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. They want the commission to put a higher priority on public health and safety.

Their measure is also expected to give local governments more control over incoming oil and gas permits.

“Local development and zoning are the bread and butter issues of local city councils and county commissions,” said Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette. “Only oil and gas is exempt from that currently. They should have the same power [over that industry].”

Democrats have been talking about such legislation since the 2019 session opened, but their plans have been firming up lately.

The move most likely will be contained in just one bill rather than many, said House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. A concerted effort is more likely to succeed, she said.

“That’s better than throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks,” Becker said.

Working alongside Becker on the measure is Senate Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, who said the state hasn’t passed any substantial legislation on oil and gas regulation in six years and spoke optimistically of the incoming bill.

“It’s actually probably the most meaningful reform that Colorado will have ever seen in oil and gas,” Fenberg said.

The legislation could be introduced into the House as early as March, Fenberg said. He and Becker anticipate opposition from the oil and gas industry.

The Colorado Petroleum Council trade group remains optimistic that incoming legislation will account for the diverse voices represented in the state’s energy field, said Tracee Bentley, the council’s executive director, who announced Tuesday she will depart next month to lead an industry group in Texas.

“As ever, we stand ready to work collaboratively with the legislature to ensure that every voice is represented in the formulation of new laws, while protecting the 232,900 Colorado women and men whose livelihoods depend on the natural gas and oil industry,” Bentley said through a spokesman. “We are excited about the future of our innovative line of work and its ability to provide unprecedented opportunity to Coloradans from every walk of life.”

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