DENVER — A bill Democrats have pushed through the legislature aimed at reforming the oil and gas industry in Colorado passed the Colorado Senate Wednesday morning in a party-line vote and now sits on the governor's desk.
All Republicans were united in their opposition to the bill - with all 16 members present to vote against it. The bill won with the support of all 19 Colorado Senate Democrats.
If it becomes law, SB 19-181 would change the focus of the state's oil and gas industry regulation.
The version of the bill passed in the Senate approved all changes and amendments added by the state House.
Gov. Jared Polis has already stated his support of such measures and is likely to sign the legislation.
In one of the bill's larger changes to the industry, the importance of oil and gas production and public health would no longer be on equal ground; the environment, wildlife and public health would take precedence over oil and gas production.
The bill would completely revamp the makeup and mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission -- the state commission that regulates the oil and gas industry -- to "regulate oil and gas activities" and not simply "foster the development of oil and gas."
The commission would also no longer be the sole regulatory body over such sites; the air quality control commission, state board of health, water quality control commission, hazardous and solid waste commission and local governments would be given control over respective portions of each oil and gas well.
Whenever any regulatory body overseeing oil and well sites disagrees on something, the group whose plan would do the most to protect public health would be the course of action taken.
The bill would also get rid of the gray area of what control local governments have and make it explicit that city councils and county commissioners can control decisions on what happens above ground, relating to permits and location of operations.
SB 19-181 would allow the state to make publicly available information related to oil and gas well flow lines - something that hasn't been legal before.
Local control of oil and gas operations was one of Polis' promises during the campaign and in his state of the state address.
"It’s time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil and gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact, and to make sure that all of our communities have clean air and water," Polis said during his State of the State on Jan. 10.
Proponents of the bill believe it will give communities more say in what happens in their neighborhoods.
Opponents of the bill suggest it amounts to a ban on the oil and gas industry, and that whatever local governments decide, state lawmakers could enact stricter regulations.
The bill was approved by the Senate on March 13 after more than 30 hours total of debate - sent back to the House, then again to the Senate on Wednesday and is now on the governor's desk primed for his signature pen.
Voters may have the opportunity to repeal the oil and gas bill this November if it ends up becoming law.
Former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney and Weld County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Kirkmeyer hope to get measures on the ballot that would reverse Senate Bill 181 while also changing the makeup of the state commission.
Brackney said he believes SB 181 makes the commission inherently partisan. He wants to change that.
“Our process is truly independent,” Brackney said, describing an alternative to 181. “The governor and the highest-ranking member of the opposite party pick a pool [of possible commissioners], and retired judges, who have to come from different parties, would pick the final commissioners based on their knowledge and based on their demonstrated history of being balanced and thoughtful and collaborative decision makers.”
That commission would then decide what role local governments would play. This is a much different strategy than SB 181 would call for, which would give local governments the final say about drilling in their communities.
“The new ballot measures that have been filed are yet another unfortunate example of the oil and gas industry trying to buy influence over public policy in Colorado,” said state Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, the primary sponsor of SB 181. "The passage of SB 181 will create certainty for both communities and the industry, and these divisive ballot measures threaten the constructive process we've made."
9NEWS reporters Marshall Zelinger and Liz Kotalik contributed to this report.
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