Colorado Democratic lawmakers released a plan late Friday afternoon for a major overhaul of oil and gas regulations that would make human health and environmental protection the state’s highest priority, not energy production.
The bill also includes provisions giving local governments the authority to regulate the location of new wells and to impose fines for spills and pollution. Currently, only the state has those powers.
The bill would also put a hold on some new state drilling permits until the revised rules are in place.
The legislation would bring a fundamental change to the way the state oversees one of its biggest and most contentious industries. State law currently requires regulators to encourage oil and gas production and says health and environmental protections are limited by what is feasible and cost-effective.
Industry and environmental groups said they were still reviewing the 27-page bill late Friday, but it is certain to provoke fierce debate.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association called it “extreme” and accused Democrats of shutting the industry out of the process.
“Let’s do this the Colorado way — stop playing this out through the media and get people of good faith in the room and work toward a balanced approach,” association President Dan Haley said in a written statement.
Republican lawmakers already expressed skepticism before the details were released.
In a tweet earlier Friday, Senate Republicans said Democrats “are charging ahead with legislation crafted behind closed doors, supported by misleading propaganda, and at the expense of over 100,000 workers.”
Drilling often leads to conflicts in Colorado, where growing suburbs overlap lucrative oil and gas fields. The state has repeatedly revised regulations over the past few years, but the changes did not go far enough to satisfy health and environmental advocates and some local governments.
Republican lawmakers blocked previous attempts at major changes, but Democrats now control both houses of the Legislature after capturing a majority in the state Senate in November.
Newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis supports the overhaul. At a news conference Thursday that previewed the bill, he said change was overdue.
“The time to act is now,” he said.
The bill includes other significant changes. It would shake up the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry, reducing the number of industry representatives and adding commissioners with expertise in environmental protection and public health.
It would also tighten the requirements for “forced pooling,” a process that allows an energy company to drill a single well to extract oil and gas owned by multiple parties and then distribute the profits among them.
Currently, regulators can approve forced pooling requested by one party. The new legislation would require more than half the mineral owners to agree before regulators issue a force pooling order.