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Truth testing oil and gas ads as Colorado legislature considers new rules

Colorado's oil and gas industry is worried enough about proposed new regulations being considered in the legislature that they are digging into their pockets to run campaign-style ads.

It should be the political ad off-season, but state lawmakers are halfway to passing oil and gas reform. And as we found out during the 2018 election, the oil and gas industry has millions of dollars to spend on political ads.

Senate Bill 181 would make several changes to how the oil and gas industry operates in Colorado. We truth tested some of the claims made in one of these ads.

CLAIM: "Last fall, Coloradans went to the ballot box and voted overwhelmingly against Proposition 112."

VERDICT: True, depending on your definition of "overwhelmingly."

Proposition 112 was defeated on the November 2018 ballot 55 percent to 45 percent.

CLAIM: "They voted to protect funding for schools, protect jobs and protect our way of life."

VERDICT: This is a stretch.

We can't definitively say why 55 percent of Coloradans voted against Proposition 112. The ballot issue would have increased the distance where oil and gas operations could set up in relation to homes, schools and streams. The setback would have increased to 2,500 feet.

CLAIM: "But a handful of politicians didn't like that result and think they knew better. So now they're trying to ignore the voters and pass a law in the middle of the night, to shut down energy production in Colorado."

VERDICT: This section is full of overstatements.

"Pass a law in the middle of the night" is not accurate at all.

The bill, Senate Bill 181, is the oil and gas reform bill that would give local governments control over where oil and gas operations could set up. It would also change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission - the state regulators - to include fewer members from the oil and gas industry and one with an expertise in public health. The commission would also have to start making decisions considering public health and safety first.

The first committee hearing for this bill was on March 5. The hearing started at 2 p.m. The vote that passed it out of the committee didn't happen until nearly 2 a.m. 9NEWS had a camera and reporter at the committee hearing, as did other news media. The public testified before and against the bill throughout the 12-hour hearing. While the bill was voted on early in the morning, it wasn't passed blindly with no one noticing or participating.

The bill also has more steps before becoming law. It has passed out of the Senate and has its first hearing in the House on Monday afternoon.

About that claim that this bill will shut down energy production in Colorado - As we state above, the oil and gas bill would give local governments control of regulations on where the oil and gas industry can operate. City councils and county commissioners could limit how close operations can be to homes, schools and other landmarks. 

Even if a local jurisdiction does not tighten regulations, the state could pass stricter regulations that would apply to those areas. The change to the state commission could impact the approval of future oil and gas permits.

THE BOTTOM LINE: This ad could have made the argument that this bill is getting fast-tracked through the legislative process, but it's not happening in the cover of night.

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