Breaking News
More () »

'Health and safety must come first': Colorado bill would change focus of state's oil and gas industry regulation

The announcement is an omnibus bill that will tackle multiple sections of the oil and gas industry and oil and gas regulation.

A bill to reform the oil and gas industry in Colorado was unveiled at a news conference at the State Capitol on Thursday afternoon. 

The text of the bill shows that massive changes would be implemented in the way oil and gas sites are managed and regulated. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, House Speaker KC Becker and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fenberg - all Democrats - put out a news release advising of legislation that "will prioritize the health and safety of communities." In one of the bill's larger changes, 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.

"As the industry has changed, our laws and regulations have not kept pace, leaving our neighborhoods, communities and our environment to bear the impacts and increasing risks," a release announcing the legislation read.

The bill, the text of which was released Friday afternoon, 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.

RELATED | The proposed changes to Colorado oil and gas regulations: Regulate wells, protect public health

Whenever any regulatory body overseeing oil and well sites disagree on something, the group whose plan would do the most to protect public health would be the course of action taken.

"In this area, I said I would put health and safety first and support local control. I feel that this bill is consistent with those principles," said Polis at the news conference.

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.

At the news conference, Polis introduced someone who will be seen as the face of this legislation.

Erin Martinez survived when her Firestone home exploded in April 2017. Her husband, Mark, and brother, Joey Irwin III, both 42, were killed. The cause of the explosion was an abandoned and severed gas line.

WATCH BELOW: Woman who lost her husband, brother to natural gas explosion speaks on oil and gas reforms

"On the day of the explosion, I remember being blown into the air and trapped between falling debris. The entire house was lifted off of its foundation. It fell completely to one side. My son had to crawl on his hands and knees through a tunnel to a window and make the decision to jump out and save his own life," said Martinez.

RELATED: Anadarko to sever 1-inch gas lines at 3,000 Colorado wells following fatal explosion

RELATED: Uncapped, abandoned gas line caused Firestone home explosion

She then told a story about how the current structure of regulation has failed her in her search for a new home. She said that her son was very scared when it came to buying a new home, worried that there might be new or abandoned wells under the house. 

So, she said, she found a new home and was assured there was only one well in the area - and that it was plugged, abandoned and far away from the new house. 

"We took them at their word," she continued. "We moved in, and I could comfort my son that it was safe. Months later, I saw crews from the oil and gas industry digging and searching for an abandoned well behind my house. They kept getting closer and closer to my property line. They finally located the well in my neighbor's backyard along with a fence line that we share. As a result of this incident, we are in the process of moving again and I am trying to get my son to trust this time it will be OK."

This bill would allow the state to make publicly available information related to oil and gas well flow lines - something that hasn't been legal before.

"If you want to move into a house that's close to oil and gas operations, you should be able to see whether or not pipelines are close to the house or close to your kids school, and right now that information is very hard to get, if not impossible," said Sen. Mike Foote, a Democrat from Boulder.

But for state inspectors to go out in the field and actually verify the work of oil and gas operators, that requires money in a different bill. The governor has already asked for more money for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to add inspectors. However, there still won't be a way for inspectors to verify lines that are already underground.

"I don't know if it's possible to go back and remap everything. I know going forward, everything is going to be much better run," said Becker.

During the news conference, Sen. Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder) said there was a stakeholder process prior to this bill being written. A stakeholder process is when those who will be impacted by the bill meet with lawmakers to go through questions, concerns, potential hurdles and suggestions.

“We wrote the bill. The industry didn’t write the bill. Activists didn’t write the bill," said Fenberg.

In response to the news conference, oil and gas industry organizations sent out emails suggesting oil and gas groups were not included in the stakeholder process.

Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council emailed a statement which reads, in part:

"In my over 15 years of working with the Colorado state government, not having a thorough stakeholder process is unprecedented, especially for a bill that targets one industry but impacts every Coloradan. We are deeply disappointed that House and Senate leadership do not appear to value the stakeholder process nor the importance of having all stakeholders at the table on one of the most consequential proposals in Colorado history."

An urgent posting on the Colorado GOP site calls the bill "crushing legislation that will devastate Colorado's energy industry."

The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday. A full breakdown of the changes can be found at this link.

SUGGESTED VIDEOS | Next with Kyle Clark

Before You Leave, Check This Out