Oil, gas bill passes Senate committee in Denver | CraigDailyPress.com

Oil, gas bill passes Senate committee in Denver

Field workers with Elenburg Exploration work on drilling a natural gas well for Beartooth Oil & Gas Co. The well, located north of Craig, proved successful and was tied into existing pipelines in the county.

A proposed state bill with major implications for Moffat County's oil and gas industry passed another legislative hurdle at the Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday, March 13.

According to the legislature's website, SB19-181 "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.

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 to navigate or leave the state.

Moffat County commissioners and other officials in Craig and Moffat County oppose the bill.

Industry groups in Colorado have also decried the legislation and the speed at which SB19-181 and other bills have been passed in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

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"Senate Bill 19-181 directly threatens Colorado's future economic health and deserves thorough stakeholder input and subsequent deliberation," Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley wrote in a March 7 news release. "The level of analysis required for legislation of this magnitude simply cannot be completed in three-minute testimonials that Democratic leadership currently deems sufficient."

But it seems many of the industry's complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

According to Jessika Shipley, of the Colorado Senate's Transportation and Energy committee, SB19-181 passed a third reading before the senate on Wednesday and will now make its way to Colorado's Speaker of the House Kathleen Collins Becker (D-Boulder), who will assign it to a House committee soon. Speaker Becker didn’t return the Craig Press’ request for comment Wednesday regarding which House committee will first see the bill and when.

In a joint statement from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Council condemning Wednesday's Senate vote, the two groups said the proposed legislation threatens Colorado's coffers, among other things.

"If signed into law, this legislation will diminish funding for critical public services, including education, health care, and road maintenance," the CPC and COGA wrote in a Wednesday news release. "According to an analysis released yesterday (Tuesday) by the nonpartisan REMI Partnership, even a 50 percent reduction in Colorado's natural gas and oil production by 2030 could eliminate 120,000 jobs and remove $8 billion in tax revenue from state and local coffers."

The two industry groups announced in a news release Thursday they would be joining energy workers and others who oppose the bill at rallies in two of Colorado’s major energy towns — in Grand Junction, at the UTE Water, 2190 H 1/4 Road; and in Greeley, at the Greeley Chamber South Parking lot, 902 Seventh Street.

Conservation groups across the state, meanwhile, expressed their support of the bill's continued success in the legislature.

"Thank you to the Colorado State Senate for acting decisively to prioritize Colorado's air, water, and residents over oil and gas industry profits," said Kelly Nordini, executive director for Conservation Colorado, on Wednesday. "This bill is nearly a decade in the making. We urge the House to act swiftly, pass these commonsense reforms, and send them to Gov. (Jared) Polis to sign so we can put Coloradans' health and safety first."

Newly elected Moffat County Commissioner Donald Broom on Wednesday said that, 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."

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.

Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck estimated tax dollars generated for Moffat County from the energy industry in 2018 was about $2.9 million. 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, according to Beck.

Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@craigdailypress.com.