Colorado energy bill mixes like oil and water with Moffat County views
The governor of Colorado on Tuesday signed a bill that may forever change the way the oil and gas industry does business in Colorado.
Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 181 — officially known as the Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations bill — on Tuesday afternoon to the great pleasure of environmentalists and to the great displeasure of oil and gas groups.
The bill decreases the number of industry representatives on the nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from three members to one, replacing those with commissioners who have expertise in environmental protection and public health instead.
The bill would also allow cities and counties to employ their land-use powers to regulate oil and gas within their jurisdictions, setting up the possibility of a regulatory patchwork of differing rules across Colorado, which energy companies will have no choice but to try and navigate or leave the state. The bill, in general, asks the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to prioritize public health and safety over oil and gas exploration and production.
Some 400 Coloradans signed up to testify for and against the bill after SB19-181’s late filing in March. Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck and Jeff Comstock, the county’s natural resources director, said they waited several hours for their two-minute turn to testify against the bill remotely from Grand Junction.
“This is just a repeat of what happened in 2010 with HB 1365,” Beck said in a March interview. “They want to take away our coal. They want to take away our oil and gas production. So we’ve got to stand up.”
Thousands of oil and gas wells exist in Moffat County, many of them abandoned.
According to data compiled by the Denver Post, about 150 of Moffat County’s wells are active in Sparks and Hiawatha. Data show there are at least 100 active wells in and around Powder Wash. Active wells also exist just north of Craig off Colorado Highway 13, and more than two dozen are situated northwest of Craig on Moffat County Road 7.
Beck said estimated tax dollars generated for Moffat County from oil and gas in 2018 was about $2.9 million. He added oil and gas production is a major part of Moffat County’s energy economy, which makes up approximately 61 percent of Moffat County’s assessed value for the purposes of property taxes.
Newly elected Moffat County Commissioner Donald Broom said in March if the law passes, he hopes Moffat County will be able to use it to the county’s advantage, but expressed concern the oil and gas industry might tuck tail and run.
“If it gets tough, they’re not going to stay in Colorado,” Broom said of oil companies. “They’ll go somewhere else.”
But not everyone in the Yampa Valley is against HB19-181.
In an interview with Steamboat Pilot & Today, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he supports the bill, though at least one other Routt County commissioner acknowledged the bill would probably not have a major impact on the local economy because of the lack of oil and gas development.
“You can’t sacrifice the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens for getting out that last barrel of oil,” Monger said.
It seems Chevron — fresh off its recent acquisition of Colorado’s Anadarko Petroleum in Weld County — isn’t going anywhere and is ready to comply with the new regulations. In a statement given to the Greeley Tribune Tuesday, Chevron said the company plans to work with local governments to understand their expectations going forward.
“We look forward to partnering with government officials and communities in Colorado to continue responsible, efficient and safe development of oil and gas,” Veronica Flores-Paniagua, Chevron’s external affairs advisor, said in a statement to The Greeley Tribune. “At the appropriate time, we will engage with all the appropriate parties to be sure that we understand their expectations and that we operate responsibly, which is what Anadarko has done and we plan to continue to do.”
Reporters Derek Maiolo and Trevor Reid contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or email@example.com.