Officials in Yampa Valley at odds over proposed state oil and gas bill
March 7, 2019
A new state bill that hopes to defang the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and give power back to local governments when it comes to regulating oil and gas interests has caused a stir across the Centennial State.
According to the most recently updated version of SB19-181 on the legislature's website, the bill "enhances local governments’ ability to protect public health, safety, and welfare and the environment by clarifying, reinforcing, and establishing their regulatory authority over the surface impacts of oil and gas development."
The bill would decrease 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.
Some 400 Coloradans signed up to testify for and against the bill Tuesday after SB19-181's late Friday filing. Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck and Jeff Comstock, the county's natural resources director, said they waited well into the evening for their two-minute turn to testify against the bill.
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"This is just a repeat of what happened in 2010 with HB 1365," Beck said Tuesday. "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.
The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, which represents Moffat County and several other counties and cities in the Yampa Valley, wrote a letter Saturday to Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia opposing the bill.
"Our Northwest Colorado members seem to have been summarily dismissed in the process of developing the bill, yet this region hosts the second-largest natural gas resource in the country," the letter read. "It seems that a conversation with local governments in this region would have been paramount to the development of a bill. As Northwest Colorado was not included in discussions regarding this policy, it does not seem unreasonable to allow our members adequate time to analyze the bill before rushing it to the hearing."
Indeed, the bill's usual fiscal impact statement was posted online less than an hour before the first hearing Tuesday.
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.
At the same time, he echoed the concerns of those who believe the bill is passing too quickly through the legislative process without considering dissent from Republicans, as well as industry representatives.
"It’s like shoving this stuff down their throats," he said.
Derek Maiolo contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.