Proposed bills would up fines, reduce perceived conflicts of interest
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — With many Colorado residents feeling that Gov. Hickenlooper has tilted the playing field in favor of fossil fuel development, the Colorado General Assembly will begin to explore new laws that could help balance fossil fuel extraction with public health and safety and concerns about impacts to the environment.
House Bill 13-1267 would increase the maximum daily fine for serious accidents from $1,000 to $15,000 per day and set a minimum fine of $5,000 per violation per day for violations that have a significant adverse impact on public health, safety, or welfare, including the environment. It would also repeal the cap on the maximum total fine.
House Bill 12-1269 would make it clear that the primary mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is to make sure that public health and safety and natural resources are adequately protected during the course of fossil fuel development. It also addresses the inherent conflict of interest that currently exists on the commission by prohibiting future commissioners from being employees, officers, or directors of oil and gas companies.
As proposed, House Bill 1269 could also help make clear that some areas are simply not appropriate for energy development and changes the current standard that prohibits “wasting” oil and gas deposits by leaving them in the ground. The change makes clear that “waste” does not include reduced production that results from compliance with health, safety and environmental protections.
“We applaud the legislature for taking steps to address Coloradans’ rising concern over the impacts to their communities, homes, and children’s health from increased drilling and fracking in Colorado,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado. “Oil and gas companies need to take responsibility for their actions, just like the rest of us do, and be held accountable with commonsense rules that ensure their operations are safe and that our air, land, and water and public health are protected.”
Industry officials reacted cautiously to what could be a slew of bills aimed at stiffening regulations for oil and gas drilling operations.
“Our industry was not consulted prior to introduction of Representative Foote’s bill, so we will review the language in the coming days,” said Colorado Oil and Gas Association spokesman Doug Flanders. “Our objective will be to determine what impacts this bill will have on the 107,000 men and women with jobs related to Colorado’s oil and gas industry,” he said.
“Industry will be reviewing Representative Moreno’s bill; we were aware that this idea was being proposed,” Flanders said, referring to House Bill 13-1268, which would require sellers to disclose in the sale of real property that a separate mineral estate may subject the property to oil, gas, or mineral extraction.
“COGA believes that providing more information and transparency regarding the mineral estate is important for both surface and mineral owners. We think it’s important than any conversation about oil and gas acknowledge how interdependent Coloradoans are with these resources. Petroleum products fuel our transportation, provide electricity, transport food and water into our community, and are the basis of every electronic and plastic gadget with which we interact. There are energy providers and energy users, and any legislation must acknowledge that we are all invested in this together,” he said.
Conservation groups greeted the move to up fines by saying that many current enforcement actions are mere wrist slaps for multi-million dollar oil and gas companies.
“If drilling activity degrades our air quality, pollutes surface or groundwater, or harms public health, the oil and gas industry should pay for the damage it has caused, just like anybody else does when they violate the law,” Conservation Colorado said in a statement.
“The conflicting dual mission of the Commission creates a situation where profits of multimillion dollar oil and gas companies are deemed as important as the health and welfare of Colorado children and the general public,” Maysmith said. “The state of Colorado should put the health of Coloradans and our clean air and water first … common-sense dictates that those charged with making rules should not be on the payroll of the same industry they are supposed to regulate.”
Filed under: Colorado, energy, Environment, gas drilling, oil drilling Tagged: | Colorado, Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, energy, Environment, fracking, House Bill 1267, House Bill 1268, House Bill 1269, Petroleum industry, public health