Bill to change oil-gas commission advances

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A Democratic-sponsored bill that would shift the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission toward a more environmentally friendly body passed the House on April 9, with no support from Republicans.

An amended version of House Bill 1269 requires COGCC board members to disclose any financial ties they may have to the oil and gas industry. There also would be stricter rules regarding recusal, if it is deemed that the member has a conflict of interest.

The bill also changes the board's mission. The GOGCC now has a dual role aimed at encouraging oil and gas production, while at the same time protecting the environment. But under the bill, the duality would be tilted toward public safety and the environment.

“We're responding to what the public has concerns about,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, during an April 9 House debate. “The COGCC and the (oil and gas) industry hasn't done enough to address those concerns.”

But Republicans argue that the bill would result in wasted minerals and would dictate to owners of mineral rights what they can and can't do with their property.

“We have in this state the strictest oil and gas rules in the nation,” said Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument. “This is really more about a group of people coming in and telling you what to do with your mineral rights.”

Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, warned that “there will be blowback” if this bill becomes law and that the legislation is a reaction to a “hysterical” fringe.

“I am very concerned that we are sending a very loud and a very clear message to the the state of Colorado, that we are not just going to regulate you ... we're going to control you,” Scott said.

But Democrats say the changes the bill proposes do not spell doom for the highly profitable oil and gas industry.

“I don't think the sky is going to fall over this bill,” said Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 34-29, with “no” votes from Democratic Reps. Ed Vigil of Fort Garland and Cherylin Peniston of Westminster.

Peniston told Colorado Community Media that she was supportive of changes made to the COGCC in 2007, at a time when she believed the “strictly oil and gas”-dominated board needed more balance.

However, she doesn't see that as being the case this time around.

“I felt it took away the dual mission, which is to protect public safety and to encourage production of oil and gas in Colorado,” Peniston said of House Bill 1269. “Really, the role now for this commission will be to look out for environmental issues, first.”

Peniston also said board members are professional and that they “already do a good job of recusing themselves” when conflicts of interest exist.

The bill that passed April 9 was scaled down from its original version, which would have prohibited oil and gas industry representatives from serving on the board whatsoever.

The bill now heads to the Senate. It's unknown at this time whether Gov. John Hickenlooper — a pro-fracking Democrat — will sign or veto the legislation, if it gets to him.

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