New Colorado Law Gives Local Governments More Control Over Drilling

by | April 17, 2019 AT 7:35 AM

By Mitchell Byars

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed  a sweeping oil and gas bill on Tuesday as Boulder County officials and lawmakers celebrated a bill that will give local governments more control over drilling and mandate state regulators emphasize public safety.

Polis on Tuesday signed  Senate Bill 181, which made its way through the state Legislature thanks to the Democrats' newfound control of state government following November's elections.

"Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over and the winner is all of us," Polis said.

House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, introduced the bill in February alongside Erin Martinez, whose brother and husband  were killed in a  home explosion in 2017 in Firestone.

"We're really happy," said Martinez, who was at Tuesday's signing with her son and daughter. "This is something that means a lot to our family. It feels like it's a great way to honor Mark and Joey. The two-year anniversary is tomorrow so it's really fitting that we got this done before that came."

The bill gives local governments land use authority over extraction proposals, changes the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to protecting public health and safety, and raises the burden on oil and gas companies before they could force pool of mineral rights.

The Boulder County Commissioners released a statement applauding the signing Tuesday afternoon.

"While not perfect, the bill is a meaningful step forward in addressing the conflicts that have erupted from oil and gas development in recent years, particularly along the Front Range of Colorado," the statement read. "The bill levels the playing field for local governments by giving them more control and a stronger voice in what takes place inside their borders. The improved control gained by local governments is not unlimited, but the bill does provide them with clearer authority to regulate oil and gas development -- to protect public health, safety, and welfare, along with the environment and wildlife -- like they do every other land use in their communities."

The commissioners also stated the county would "continue to enforce its regulations" and "will be an active participant in upcoming rule-makings at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Air Quality Control Commission."

The county is  suing Crestone over a proposed plan to drill 140 wells along Colo. 52 north of Erie.

Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said in a statement the next year would see "an extensive rule-making process to determine exactly how the executive branch enacts this new law."

"We must remain involved and vigilant throughout the process," Foote said in the statement. "But for today, we should take a moment to celebrate our real progress on this issue."

Those who opposed the bill said it would negatively effect Colorado's economy and cost jobs.

"Senate Bill 181 remains a threat to one of the foundations of Colorado's economy," said Colorado Petroleum Council spokesman Ben Marter in a statement. "Colorado's energy future is too important to be wielded as a partisan weapon, and all Coloradans deserve to know the consequences of this bill, both intended and unintended."

And while the Boulder County Commissioners lauded the bill, leaders in neighboring Weld County had a much different reaction.

"As County Commissioners, we stand firmly behind the families employed by the oil and gas industry as we are grateful for the work you do," the Weld County Commissioners wrote in a statement. "We stand ready to work with the oil and gas industry, as we have since the early 1920s, to develop a system that provides certainty and stability to the process.

"Today is a difficult day for many of our families, but rest assured you are not alone."

The Denver Post's Judith Kohler contributed to this report.

(c)2019 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)